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Archive for June, 2012

I have taken most of the following from one of two diaries that have survived the many disruptions and along with copies of “The Fred Harris for President Handbook” that I wrote for that ill-fated quixotic campaign in the 1970s and my daughters PhD thesis from Harvard have lain mostly unopened and unread, a few feet from the many beds I have occupied over the past 40 years. I was prompted to open them after writing the previous post about Louie, who I have not seen since 1964, in response to discovering on Facebook that Louie was living apparently happily as an artist in Taos, New Mexico.

Thursday, February 20, 1964.

LANFORD WILSON, JEAN-CLAUDE VAN ITALLIE, H.M. ...

LANFORD WILSON, JEAN-CLAUDE VAN ITALLIE, H.M. KOUTOUKAS, ROSALYN DREXLER, IRENE FORNES, LEONARD MELFI, TOM EYEN, PAUL FOSTER, 1966, photo by GLOAGUEN. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Tonight was very interesting. Lou called and invited me to see his new apartment in the Village. I went there. It is a hovel. He told me all about how nicely he intended to fix it up.

An interesting young man named Leonard Melfi arrived. He is a young playwright, currently writing plays for Cafe La Mama.

We spent the next several hours drinking and talking. Lou described at some length his overactive sex life, including his current affair with a young actress and also the four other women he had gotten pregnant.

Leonard and I then went off on a discussion about the Janet Wylie murder that occupied the headlines of the NY newspapers for almost a year. We both closely followed the news reports about the killing. He had known Janet and appeared to have additional information not reported in the papers. We decided that the murderer was most likely the third roommate. The police, however did not consider her a suspect.

He and I discussed our fascination with murders and the process of identifying the murderer. Much more exciting than solving other types of puzzles we agreed.”

Monday, April 27, 1964, I wrote:

“This weekend the police produced a suspect in the Janet Wylie murder. His arrest upended all the theories Leonard and I had developed. He was the only remaining option unaccounted for in our theories. The murder was a completely random event. The suspect was someone who just wandered in and surprised the girls. Although when we were developing our theories we touched on this possibility, we rejected it as just too far-fetched.”

Note:

La Mama Theater by David Shankbone

La Mama Theater by David Shankbone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leonard Melfi was one of the most important American playwrights of the 1960s when experimental theater was the rage. His works were originally performed at Ellen Stewart‘s La Mama. He became a raging alcoholic and died alone in a SRO hotel on NY’s Broadway and 93rd Street on October 24, 2001.

Janet Wylie and her roommate, Emily Hoffert, two young professionals, were murdered in their Upper East Side apartment by an intruder on August 28, 1963, in what the press called The Career Girls Murders. The suspect taken into custody referred to above was a black man, George Whitmore. It later turned out, investigators erroneously arrested and forced a false confession from Whitmore. Richard Robles a young white man was ultimately apprehended in 1965 and charged with the crime. Nevertheless, Whitmore was imprisoned for many years until he was eventually released. Robles, now 68, was convicted and remains in prison.

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Songthaew

 

Recently while leaving Paradise by the Sea (Jomtien Beach) to return to Bangkok the little masseuse and I took the small converted pick up truck transit vehicle called a songthaew from the condo to the bus station to catch the Pattaya-Bangkok bus. When we arrived at the bus station my masseuse went to pay the songthaew driver our fare. Suddenly an enormous row ensued. The driver jumped out of his vehicle, leaving the other passengers to wait while the two of them went at it, shouting at each other.

For a while, I enjoyed the spectacle of the diminutive masseuse all 5 feet of her and the much larger bus driver (about my size) shred the Thai cultural requirement of Jai Yen (Maintaining a cool heart). Finally, I stepped between them and the driver returned to his vehicle and drove off in a huff.

When I asked my friend what had caused the argument, she answered:

“I tried to pay the driver the usual 10 baht(about 30 cents) per person fare, but he insisted that I pay 20 baht instead. I asked him why he is demanding twice the amount for the ride than I usually pay. He answered, ‘That was when you traveled by yourself, this time you are traveling with a farang.’”

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Street sign depicting the name of Sukhumvit Ro...

A street sign depicting the name of Sukhumvit Road (Thanon Sukhumvit) in Thai and Latin letters (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning I dropped Hayden off at school and proceeded along Soi 4 to Sukhumvit. Some of the shops and bars were just opening for the day’s business. The Restaurants and cafes serving breakfast were in full swing with bleary-eyed farangs trying to down their first coffee of the day. A few of the ladies of the night were still out on the streets. Whether they were out trying to get an early start on the day’s business or just hoping for one last score on their way home to sleep away the sunshine hours after last nights commerce, I do not know.

Soi Arab in Bangkok, between the Sukhumvit 3 a...

Soi Arab in Bangkok, between the Sukhumvit 3 and 5 roads (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stopped at a Starbuck’s at the corner of Sukhumvit and Nana for a Cafe Latte and to read the newspaper and then proceeded to the barbershop. The barber shop I use is located in the Arab quarter because we of the olive skin race, (bordering the Mediterranean and extending into the mountains of Persia and Afghanistan), tend to be generally more hirsute than the races from the north, south, and east of our homeland.

I ordered a shave and a deep ear cleaning. Now, for those unfamiliar with it, deep ear cleaning is a process that would probably be banned in North America or Europe. The barber inserts a series of long sharp instruments into one’s ear and scrapes, swabs and otherwise digs out whatever he or she finds in there. In my case, it must have been a lot since when I left the shop, the insistent noise of Bangkok appeared louder than when I went in.

From the barber shop, I walked through the back alleys of Arab town with their shops and cafes and travel agencies and the like catering to the mostly Muslim population of the area. The air smelled of spices, shawarma, and falafel reminding me of my love of the cuisine.

I come out of the alley in front of Gulliver’s, a large barn-like club. Inside there are several circular bars around which in the evenings young women sit in hopes of being hit on by preferably older and wealthier farangs.

I walk past Food Land Market. It houses a counter inside serving some of the least expensive good food, western and other, in BKK.

I enter a tunnel that runs between Soi’s. It is dark and filled on both sides with tiny bars, food stalls, and shops. The tunnel exits next to an establishment named The Beer Garden. It is basically a downscale version of Gulliver’s and is referred to by some as “The Chicken Farm.” I cross the street and pass through the driveway along the Amari Hotel that ends in a large parking lot that skirts the abandoned lobby of what I guess is another hotel, on the doors of which are sculpted a magnificent brace of swans.

The parking lot ends at Soi 11 adjacent to the Rain Tree Spa and across from my destination, the Ambassador Hotel, containing the health club and pool I use for my morning exercises.

Sukhumvit road

Sukhumvit road (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following my workout, I walk along Sukhumvit to Soi 4 to go back to my apartment. I often stop at the Landmark Hotel and visit the Asia Books store in the lobby to see if there and any new releases I want to read.

As I walk along, now and then a rat would poke its head out through a crack in the sidewalk, I guess for a glimpse of sunlight and perhaps safety from the dangers of the dark subterranean canals that lie just below the pavement, their fetid waters home to rats, snakes, and god knows what else. When Bangkok enclosed most of their canals to provide the motorways for the modern city, it created a miasmatic swamp just below the city’s streets. Who knows what is breeding down there. The sewers of Paris are palaces compared to these. Novels have been written of escapes through the sewer systems of many cities, even New York. But if you’re trapped in Bangkok’s I doubt the possibility of survival. I sometimes wonder if in a hundred years or so some new creature or creatures would rise from those mephitic waters, a plague perhaps, or something larger than minuscule disease-bearing organisms. Something looking like the Nagas of Thai myths, multi-headed serpents ascending from those hidden waterways and careening down the then flooded streets pursuing the few remaining inhabitants of the city.

Naga Head at Song Thale Park, Songkhla City.

Naga Head at Song Thale Park, Songkhla City. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arriving home, I usually grab my computer and go to the small restaurant across Soi 4 from my apartment, really not much more substantial than a sidewalk cart where I have lunch. It has the benefit of free wi-fi access, so I play with the internet, check on the 49rs and write things like this until it is time to pick Hayden up from school.

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Soap Opera in the Kitchen, after Jean-Baptiste...

Soap Opera in the Kitchen, after Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com)

During my weekly massage, my masseuse likes to watch the Thai soap operas on television while she administers the various pains and pleasures of her therapy.

Now, as I am sure we all know, soaps are a window into the dark, twisted soul of a society, so it is with Thai soap operas.

To me they all appear to tell the same stories and contain the same characters. There is the beautiful innocent heroine and the equally beautiful though not so innocent young woman. You can usually tell them apart by their eyebrows. The innocent heroine’s eyebrows are somewhat rounded, while her evil counterpart’s are straighter. They are accompanied by two equally attractive young men, one good and the other not so good. These four then are supported by a cast of actors and actresses of varying ages often playing family members of the protagonists. There are also one or two comic characters, usually played by ladyboys.

Although the stories are generally all the same, their location varies. I have seen Thai soaps set in the homes of the rich, and others in the homes of the poor living beside a klong somewhere. I have also seen them set in grocery stores, health clubs and farms. Some occur in modern times others in old Siam and still others are set in times of magic or in some guerilla campaign somewhere.

Anyway, this particular day the masseuse was watching a soap in which the straight browed beauty dressed all in black, carried a sword and had just done unspeakable things to a group of poor people locked in cages.

Viewing this through my western acclimated eyes that sees everything as a conflict between good and evil, no matter the atrocities performed by either side, I commented, “She must be the bad girl.

To which my masseuse responded, “Good or bad, it makes no difference. She is beautiful and everyone cares about her and what she does. If she were not so beautiful no one would give a damn at all about her or anything she does.”

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Cover of "The Wanderers"

Cover of The Wanderers

Recently while searching the web for two of my all-time favorite movies, the Warriors, and The Wanders, I came across a site dedicated to the New York City and Chicago teenage gangs of the late 1950′s, including maps of the rival gangs’ turf.

Based on Xenophon’s history of the Greek mercenary army, betrayed by the Persians who had to fight their way through 100s of miles of hostile Persian territory to get home, the Warriors, betrayed at a gang conference in the Bronx have to fight their way along the subway from Gun Hill Road in the Bronx and through Manhattan in order to return to their home in Coney Island.

The Wanderers, although very little about it is true to life, presented the most realistic view of the gangs and gang life at the time the time I knew and experienced it. The movie referenced actual gangs with which I had some passing relationship, The Fordham Baldies, The Golden Guineas, and the Irish Lords.

The Golden Guineas were sort of the mob farm team and along with the Fordham Baldies the most feared gang in the North Bronx (they were not bald as portrayed in the movie).

I lived outside of the City and although we had our own gangs and relationships with some of the Bronx gangs we were no match for them in size or reputation.

I belonged to two gangs that I can remember, the Skull Gang, the gang my childhood friends evolved into when we passed into puberty. It was mostly social and something to call ourselves. It was a mixed group, Italians, Blacks and Irish boys who had grown up together.

I also belonged to a gang from Mount Vernon, a somewhat more serious group. We called ourselves the Capris if you can believe it. Our “uniform” was teal bowling shirts with black velvet vertical stripes. This was a zip-gun, switchblade, tire chain wielding gang, unlike the unarmed, unwarlike Skulls who just hung out on the corner. I was consigliere since I refused to carry a weapon (fear mostly), was not known as a particularly adept fighter but was considered the most knowledgeable and thoughtful member of the gang.

I also associated with one or two minor gangs from the north Bronx, but I no longer recall their names. I was a “war” advisor with them.

I also had a friendship with the leader of a major gang from Fordham Road called the University Avenue Gang. I could not find them on the site, so they may also have had another name. The leader’s name was “Bambi.” The gang was a mixed gang, Bambi was Italian but many of the gang members were Irish.

One evening, Bambi helped in saving me and several friends from a severe beating. It seems that “One Punch Sammy Santoro” the legendary tough guy from Roosevelt High School in Yonkers had, a running conflict with Frank Santaliquito from Tuckahoe, the nearby village in which I lived. It seems Santoro once beat up Frank for some reason. As a result, Frank spent the next two years in the Gym bulking up and training in boxing and hand to hand combat. Frank who had been a tall handsome slender young man, had in those two years turned himself into an ugly brutish looking mountain of a man. He had let the word out that he was looking to even the score.

One evening, two friends of mine (Charlie DeVito and Frank Plastini) and I were at a large fast food place with pinball machines that teenagers used to like to go to and hang out. Located on Central Avenue in Yonkers( I cannot remember its name — perhaps Nathan’s), it was generally considered neutral territory.

One Punch Sammy Santoro and about seven or eight of his hangers-on came in and saw us there. Someone mentioned to them that we were from Tuckahoe. Sammy immediately assumed we were associated with Santaliquito who also lived in Tuckahoe. As a result, he prepared to punish us as a message to Frank. As they started toward us, another friend of ours, Chickie Muscalino showed up and sized up what was happening. Chickie went to the same High School as Charlie and I. He knew One Punch well and was respected by everyone because in addition to being big and strong he was affable. He intervened and tried to persuade Sammy not to harm us since we were not associated with Santaliquito.

Unknown to me, in another room of the place, Bambi and several members of his gang had come up from the Bronx to play the pinball machines. He also realized that I was in trouble and came up to me to assure me that he had my back if things got out of hand.

Despite the huge load of testosterone in the air, Chickie’s persuasiveness along with Bambi’s presence calmed One Punch down and we were allowed to leave unmolested.

Sometime after this confrontation, Sammy and Frank met up again and despite all his training and commitment, Frank was beaten again as badly as the first time they had met.

Racial concentrations in the Bronx.

Racial concentrations in the Bronx. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the way back home for some reason, we stopped at another place along Central Avenue. As we returned to our car our we found our way blocked by a group of about six teenagers led by a kid who had some sort of beef with Charlie. So with Frank and I behind him, Charlie advanced to meet the other gang leader in the center of the parking lot. Frank who had not ridden with Charlie and me before, I could see was trembling. I, on the other hand, assumed that we would lose and I would be beaten up. So I was busy searching the area for somewhere to hide in the hope that I could stave off the inevitable long enough for the police or something else to intervene.

As usual in situations like this, violence rarely occurs as the parties swap hormonal indicators. We called it “bluffing.” Charlie walked up to his opposition and before the other could speak said: “OK start fighting or start talking.” That was enough to encourage the other kid to back down. After a bit more back and forth talking and face-saving, we left and returned home.

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