O, say! Does that woman’s lamp still burn beside the golden door in 2017?

October 28, 2017

Liberty gazing out at about 265 feet above the water of New York Harbor. Image by Statue of Liberty Tickets

Liberty gazing out at about 265 feet above the water of New York Harbor. Image by Statue of Liberty Tickets

Liberty was dedicated to the people of the United States on October 28, 1886. She’s 131 years old today.

Liberty stands gazing out at about 265 feet* above the water of New York Harbor, a fixture there since construction in the 1880s.

The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States and is a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886, designated as a National Monument in 1924 and restored for her centennial on July 4, 1986.

The Statue of Liberty has been a fixture in the U.S. and American psyche, too.  Excuse me, or join me, in wondering whether we have not lost something of our former dedication to the Statue of Liberty, and the reasons France and Americans joined to build it.

Poem-a-Day sent Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” out this morning (Poem-a-Day is a wonderful service of the American Academy of Poets — you may subscribe and I recommend it).  There it was, waiting for me in e-mail.   My students generally have not heard nor read the poem, I discover year after year —  some sort of Texas-wide failure in enculturation prompted by too-specific requirements of federal law and state law, combining to make a slatwork of culture taught in our classrooms with too many cracks into which culture actually falls, out of sight, out of mind; out of memory.  I fear it may be a nationwide failure as well.

Have you read the poem lately?  It once encouraged American school children to send pennies to build a home for the statue.  Today it wouldn’t get a majority of U.S. Congressmen to sign on to consponsor a reading of it.  Glenn Beck would contest its history, Rush Limbaugh would discount the politics of the “giveaways” in the poem, John Boehner would scoriate the victims in the poem for having missed his meeting of lobbyists (‘they just missed the right boat’), and Sarah Palin would complain about “an air-bridge to nowhere,” or complain that masses who huddle are probably up to no good (they might touch, you know).

Have you read it lately?

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde - Wikimedia Commons image

Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde – Wikimedia Commons image

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

AAP makes poems available for iPhones, too, and you can see how it appears, phrase by phrase.  “The New Colossus” takes on more of its power and majesty delivered that way.

Is the Academy of American Poets playing politics here?  In much of America, there is an active movement to nail shut the “golden door,” to turn out a sign that would say “No tired, no poor nor huddled masses yearning to breathe free; especially no wretched refuse, no homeless, and let the tempest-tost stay in Guatemala and Pakistan.”

Would Americans bother to contribute to build a Statue of Liberty today?  Or would they protest against it?

Does that lamp still shine beside the golden door?

Stereoscopic image of the arm and torch of Liberty, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia

Stereoscopic image of the arm and torch of Liberty, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia; Robert N. Dennis Collection, New York Public Library.  The arm was displayed to encourage contributions to the fund to build a pedestal for the statue, from private donations.

_____________

*  I’m calculating Liberty’s gaze at about 40 feet below the tip of the torch, which is just over 305 feet above the base of the statue on the ground.  The base is probably 20 feet higher than the water, but this isn’t exact science we’re talking about here.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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O, say! Does that woman’s lamp still burn beside the golden door?

September 12, 2010

Liberty stands gazing out at about 265 feet* above the water of New York Harbor, a fixture there since construction in the 1880s.

The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States and is a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886, designated as a National Monument in 1924 and restored for her centennial on July 4, 1986.

The Statue of Liberty has been a fixture in the U.S. and American psyche, too.  Excuse me, or join me, in wondering whether we have not lost something of our former dedication to the Statue of Liberty, and the reasons France and Americans joined to build it.

Poem-a-Day sent Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” out this morning (Poem-a-Day is a wonderful service of the American Academy of Poets — you may subscribe and I recommend it).  There it was, waiting for me in e-mail.   My students generally have not heard nor read the poem, I discover year after year —  some sort of Texas-wide failure in enculturation prompted by too-specific requirements of federal law and state law, combining to make a slatwork of culture taught in our classrooms with too many cracks into which culture actually falls, out of sight, out of mind; out of memory.  I fear it may be a nationwide failure as well.

Have you read the poem lately?  It once encouraged American school children to send pennies to build a home for the statue.  Today it wouldn’t get a majority of U.S. Congressmen to sign on to consponsor a reading of it.  Glenn Beck would contest its history, Rush Limbaugh would discount the politics of the “giveaways” in the poem, John Boehner would scoriate the victims in the poem for having missed his meeting of lobbyists (‘they just missed the right boat’), and Sarah Palin would complain about “an air-bridge to nowhere,” or complain that masses who huddle are probably up to no good (they might touch, you know).

Have you read it lately?

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde - Wikimedia Commons image

Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde - Wikimedia Commons image

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

AAP makes poems available for iPhones, too, and you can see how it appears, phrase by phrase.  “The New Colossus” takes on more of its power and majesty delivered that way.

Is the Academy of American Poets playing politics here?  It’s September 12.  Yesterday many Americans took part in ceremonies and service projects in remembrance of the victims of the attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001.  In much of the rest of America, there is an active movement to nail shut the “golden door,” to turn out a sign that would say “No tired, no poor nor huddled masses yearning to breathe free; especially no wretched refuse, no homeless, and let the tempest-tost stay in Guatemala and Pakistan.”

Would Americans bother to contribute to build a Statue of Liberty today?  Or would they protest against it?

Does that lamp still shine beside the golden door?

Stereoscopic image of the arm and torch of Liberty, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia

Stereoscopic image of the arm and torch of Liberty, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia; Robert N. Dennis Collection, New York Public Library. The arm was displayed to encourage contributions to the fund to build a pedestal for the statue, from private donations.

_____________

*  I’m calculating Liberty’s gaze at about 40 feet below the tip of the torch, which is just over 305 feet above the base of the statue on the ground.  The base is probably 20 feet higher than the water, but this isn’t exact science we’re talking about here.


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 – 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 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.


Dan Valentine: Perfect Day

June 2, 2010

By Dan Valentine

I had a “Perfect Day” while in Nashville.

When you’re penniless even a fairly good day is near-impossible to imagine. Even with lots of money in your pocket, you’re lucky to have five or six “perfect days” in a lifetime.

It happened just a few days after having a perfect-storm of a night in and around Vanderbilt Hospital.

It began at the Music City Hostel with a freshly-brewed cup of coffee and a stack of free waffles, spread with Nutella.

Tracee, the owner’s wife, came in shortly afterward, with her French bull-terrier in arm: Google! Jumping up and down on me, tail wagging, paws forcefully tumbling me to the floor onto my back, licking my eyes and nose and ears, in a non-stop frenzy, as if they were covered with Nutella. Pure ecstasy! But, then: I love dogs!

Start of a Perfect Day.

I helped Tracee with some daily chores, folding bedsheets and pillow cases, etc., and was free to go enjoy myself, which for me (and for most everyone else at that hostel) is to write and finish a song. Most in Nashville work it out sitting, strumming chords on a guitar.

I walk, and work it out in my head.

This particular morning, I strolled down the street to Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. Picked up a free Wall Street Journal at the desk. Put it under arm. I love a newspaper! Better than a newspaper is a free newspaper. Better than a free newspaper are two or three free newspapers. And a cup of coffee. And a cigarette!

I strolled over to the Embassy Suites Hotel. Picked up a USA Today, poured myself a complimentary cup of coffee.

I strolled up to the Marriott. Picked up a New York Times left by a guest. Sat down on a lush couch in the lobby and flipped through the pages, in between finger-dipping between the cushions for change. Found 36 cents (two nickles, a quarter, and a penny.)

A Perfect Morning!

Now, for a cigarette. A cigarette would be nice!

I walked outside just as a beautiful woman lit up. Her cab came before she could have one puff. She placed the cigarette gently on the outside-entrance ashtray, still lit but now with an oh-so slight smear of lipstick on the filter. I picked it up. She got in her cab. I inhaled. She drove off. I exhaled. All as if it had been choreographed by Bob Fosse.

Perfect Morning. One cigarette, one sweet kiss.

In my head, I was working on a song called “Three Friends.” It was printed here on this site a couple of days ago.

I still had some minutes on my Net 10 throwaway phone. I called my dear friend in Houston. She was doing well, so were the dogs. Perfect Morning. I read what I had so far of the lyric:

“Three fam’lies together,
Fathers, mothers, daughters, sons and friends and wives …
Three fam’lies together,
Hearts in a near-crazed frenzy till their dear one arrives …”

She said, “It’s sexist! Mothers, daughters, wives. Why do they have to have a sex at all?”

Good point. Perfect Morning.

I strolled up the street to Borders bookstore (mumbling to myself, alphabetically, “dives, hives, knives, lives–LIVES!), and on the way, spotted a quarter and a penny on the curb by a parking meter. Total (so far): 82 cents!

By the time, I got to Borders I had rewritten the lyric to:

“Three fam’lies together,
Bonded by a war and intertwining lives …”

Perfect Morning.

Inside, I browsed the bookshelves, picking up a book here and there, thumbing through the pages, putting it back on the shelf. I was just about to go when I happened upon Walter Kirn’s novel, “Up in the Air.” I flipped through the pages, reading a sentence or two, and then: “That’s it!” A phrase on the page caught my eye: “deplaning now.”

In the the lyric in my head, I had: “Three friends disembarking.” Disembarking! It fit the meter, though I knew, deep down in, disembarking ship term. Not a plane.

Hence,

“Three friends now deplaning”!

Perfect Morning. Now, for lunch.

I walked across the bridge to downtown Nashville and the Renaissance Nashville Hotel. Took the escalator up to the second floor, on my way to the Bistro on the third floor. Many homeless people go to their local library for internet use. I prefer to use the complimentary internet stations in deluxe hotels.

But I never got to my destination.

There was a business luncheon in the meeting room directly at the top of the first escalator. I walked over to take a peek in the open doors and a fellow came over, hand extended, and welcomed me.

Looking around, as if searching for my associates, I said, “Dan Valentine. Imperial Corps.”

He introduced himself. We shook hands, and he said, “Come join us.” He didn’t say “Howdy,” but he must have been from Texas. No one is this friendly unless they’re from Texas. He led me to his table, introduced me to his fellow execs (“Dan Valentne. Imperial Corps.,” and, well …

A Perfect Afternoon.

My brother, Jimmy, had a similar experience when he was homeless. In Amsterdam. With nowhere to sleep, he went to the Marriott there, to the second floor, and slept underneath a banquet table, covered with a large tablecloth. He awoke the next morning to the clatter of dishes and the chatter of people talking business. He crawled out from underneath and found a full breakfast buffet awaiting him atop the tab.

A perfect morning.

After lunch, I strolled across the bridge, finding a nickel in a parking lot here, a dime by Coke machine here.

On my way back to the hostel, I stopped by the Hampton Inn. Filled an inside coat pocket with a bagel or two, filled my outer coat pockets with little packets of cream-cheese spread. Just in case of a midnight-snack attack.

But, anyway, by now I’m just about strolled out.

I’m a block and so away from the hostel, standing on the street corner, waiting for the light to change across the way from a mom-and-pop shop, owned-and-run by a Pakistani family.

I see a straggly-haired, gray-bearded man in a wheelchair come wheeling furiously out of the store with a bottle of wine on his lap. The proprietor of the store comes chasing out after him. (The old man had grabbed it off the shelf and simply raced out with it.) I could see a third man standing in the dark just a few steps from the stops’ entrance, with a 2×4 held firmly in his hand, ready to club the proprietor over the head, if need be.

I shouted, “Hey!” One word.

The proprietor stopped in his tracks and looked behind him, as the old man disappeared down the street. The man, on his blindside, dropped his weapon and ran off.

The proprietor shook his head, without a thank you, and walked back inside his store.

The light changed. I continued my stroll back to the hostel.

The end of Perfect Day. With a movie ending.

I helped an old man getaway with his much needed bottle of wine; saved another man, perhaps, from being arrested for assault or murder; saved a man’s life, maybe.

What more can you ask for on a stroll through a city?

I followed him inside for my pack of cigarettes.


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