Jukebox by Year
Seven Very Short Stories
White People In Love
Johnny In Action Against the Tonton Macoutes, Columbus Circle
The Blue Gloaming of Widdop Crags
Move This Woman With Your Cursor And Left Click
Belgium, 1565 - Hill Above Town
Love Gone Wrong
Morocco, The Rif 1981 - David Noble, French Foreign Legion
The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia - 1973
The F-4 Corsair
Johnny Truffles speaking. Giovanni Garibaldi Tartufo. Liquid-green sunglasses.
MARCH 21 - 52ND ST. - BIRDLAND STREET
I just got back from the sidewalk in front of Citbank, where Ann Curry asked me to meet her once again to discuss the market for absinthe and opium here in Manhattan; I gave her nothing but smiles and lightness, of course, and as we talked she began to blush and became flustered.
Recently I gave Greta the keys to the supercharged Mustang Cobra with the five-speed, sport suspension, and the 390-horsepower V-8, but it's not good enough for her. She says it's an unrefined muscle car and that I should have a Porsche, which grips the road in tight curves at high speeds and then disappears in a breeze on the straightaway.
I remind her of the Johnny Bugatti and the Viper from the days when I allowed my cars to attract attention. I describe the Viper's sound and the fenders on the Bugatti. I conjure the way each steering wheel felt. I tell her I could smoke any Porsche ever built in the Viper -- quarter-mile, half-mile, full-mile, or road race.
So for her it's the Citroen.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON, APRIL 20 - 53 DEGREES AND SOME LIGHT RAIN
Sometimes things flare up within Greta and between us. Sometimes not. You never know what will happen.
By day we've been putting in a garden on the roof, the roof with the view of the bridge. In April and May it's the garden.
By night I've been taking care of business downstairs, but she's got no interest in anything about my lounge.
"Those people are wasting their lives," she says, "and while some of them may have some style, they're a bunch of kumquats. Sometimes you're just like them." She's dismissive of the whole thing.
"Anything I like about you is apart from your Johnny-life," she says.
She's been going to bed at 9:30 every night and getting up at dawn. She's living in tune with the natural world.
After her long shower, she makes coffee and takes the freight elevator up to the roof, where she stays all day and often into the night. She bolted twelve 2x4s together to make a frame for a wide roll of canvas with solid brass grommets, which she stretches tight over the top. When it rains or when winds come up, she lashes it down along the sides. She has a folding chair and a cot and a table inside this frame, and a lantern, two thin summer blankets, and some pillows in olive drab pillowcases. International activity on her cell phone.
I get up about 10:30, sometimes noon, so when we meet in daylight it's up there with some Medaglia D'Oro, unless it's while we're driving the truck into the home nation of Jersey, headed for the nurseries and greenhouses. There's nothing like a light rain on a gray April afternoon, almost chilly with some light rain. The fragrant crabapples are in full bloom, the purple lilac flowers are just beginning to open, the periwinkle blueness all through the deep green vinca.
She wears jackets and plays WBGO 88.3 all day. I usually prefer other stations, except on Saturday mornings when it's Rhythm Revue with Felix Hernandez, so it can flare.
We've been hauling the garden up in the freight elevator -- wheelbarrows full of fresh dirt, trees and shrubs with the burlap root-balls, old roses which bloom once, black trays of perennials, and lavender, thyme, bee balm, sage, orange mint, bags of mulch, clay pots, bricks, lumber, canvas, a table, and three Adirondack chairs painted lime neon green. There are rakes and shovels and clippers all over the roof during the day. The viburnum and crabapples are already out, and the lilacs are about to bloom.
Wild animals are beginning to appear from the air, including three dawn-to-dusk Peregrine falcons who powerdive into graceful kills from their perches in my fragrant crabapple trees. After dark, yellow-eyed owls, the killer barrels of my roof garden, swoop down upon the darting, quivering mice. On clear nights I've heard howling wolves.
APRIL 26 - 7:15 PM
Beautiful April evening outside, cool and still sunny, 60 degrees. I'm downstairs with Frankie Panorama and Rousseau, who's playing "Big Boss Man." Here at our table by the window, I have a shotglass full of perfume-bearing Lilies of the Valley and three stainless steel pitchers full of lilacs. I'm conjuring images of my compartment on the night train.
They're telling me about Bobby's arrest last night across the Hudson in the home nation, after his girlfriend called the cops, and sometimes people pause to smell the lilacs.
The Bobby Three-Heads story is the American standard. She threatened to call the cops, he told her to do it, she did it, and once the cops arrive the law says they have to arrest one or the other, so it was him.
They don't arrest the woman, because a woman wouldn't hit you with cast-iron skillets, destroy a kitchen, threaten you with a knife, then call the police and blame it on you.
Rousseau orders double shots for everybody and a fresh pitcher of icewater after playing Billy Ward and His Dominos, "Stardust." He sings along, outcrooning in his imagination the great Billy Ward. He dances around and repeats "You can't touch this."
He's sliding the windows up and telling us we want the breezes of early spring. I ask him why he never asks anyone else's opinion on these subjects, and he says he's a man who knows what to do in all situations. It comes to him naturally. It's no effort for him. It's intuitive savoir faire. It's not work. He's doing it for us, sliding the windows up and bringing in the breezes of early spring.
"Look, I'm the one around here with the intuitive savoir faire," I tell him.
Frankie tells me about a call I got from a Euro named Rodolphe in Tribeca, who has a bar and restaurant called The Hitler and Stalin.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON, MAY 12
I'm up here in the garden where the dwarf lilacs are in bloom, and the Montana Rubens clematis with the delicate flower design and the vanilla fragrance.
I drove down to see Rodolphe in Tribeca. I saw him at his place, The Hitler and Stalin. People in there at tables and walking around looking like World War II, with the Germans having the edge in style.
Rodolphe has an occupied Paris and wartime Berlin place which feels like desperation and corruption. There's deal-making and conspiring everywhere you look. Rodolphe himself sports a stylized raffishness, as if he were a Rick instead of a Rodolphe.
The night people of Manhattan have been flocking into Rodolphe's since last fall and the moolah pipeline is pouring forth for him.
Rodolphe has only been in town a couple of years, he's new here, he's heard about me, and he has a proposition.
"What'd you hear about me, Rodolphe?" I asked him.
My first impression of Rodolphe is that he's effete.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON, MAY 18 - ON THE ROOF
I'm on the roof in this Adirondack chair and Greta is breaking up some dirt with a shovel. Cloudy. The columbine is in bloom and the rosebuds have appeared. The herbs are fresh and filling out.
Rodolphe said he'd heard that I was in Africa recently, that I was a stand-up guy, and that I knew something about the history of the absinthe and opium business here in America. That's how he phrased it. He mentioned the Fat Man down on South Street, and he knew something about me and the Macoutes. He said he wanted to know more about them, and he asked me for some details.
"They're thugs with guns and machetes," I said to him. "In Haiti, two generations of Macoutes ride through the cities and towns and roam the countryside in Jeeps. They took shape first in the imagination of Papa Doc Duvalier, Supreme Houngan and President for Life, and then he brought them to life as his large, private police force. Many answered the call because of their naturally violent and predatory natures or for the privileged life it brought, or both."
"They're enforcers who create terror, and at night they're with conjure men or wide-eyed women dancing under voodoo spells. They're officers of the law and you never see their eyes."
I don't know why I told him anything about the Macoutes. It was an impulse of the moment, and I left him at his table with his proposition.
Rousseau calls Rodolphe a hothouse flower.
FRIDAY EVENING, MAY 25
55 degrees. Overcast. Cool with a little rain. I'm at the bar, and to a stranger I could pass for an unusually handsome customer. I'm playing some music on the jukebox and doing a review of my recent history via this music. The women have been flocking around me, their eyes shining as they flirt shamelessly, squirming and brushing their thighs against mine, but I'm giving them the brush-off.
Rousseau eases through the front door, and when he catches my eye he does a half-spin move which, judging from the look on his face, he sees as the delight of all onlookers.
He dances over to the jukebox, which is playing "Miss Brown To You," and puts in some dollars.
"My pimp hand is strong," he says as he takes his seat. "Big Pimpin' has arrived!"
"You seem even lighter on your feet than usual," I say.
We start talking about Africa and what Cousin Doc's next move will be. When I mention the drill monkeys all through the trees and around camp in Katanga Mau-Mau, he starts describing a show he saw on Animal Planet about the Budango Gibbons of Sumatra, who are four feet tall with these little heads, and they swing through the trees using suspensory locomotion, the greatest of all flyers on Earth, with the arms that are longer than their legs. They use four fingers of each hand like a hook, and for flying it's all no-thumb moves.
Then, it's the speed of chimpanzees, their low running posture, their long palms, and after that it's Rodolphe in Tribeca.
THURSDAY NIGHT, MAY 31 - 10:30
Bobby Three-Heads is up here on the roof with Greta and me, and by lantern light he's telling us about what he saw in Rodolphe's last night, what he saw in The Hitler and Stalin. I'd asked him to stop in and see what he could see, and he got the job done, although he spent too much time looking the woman over, Lili Marlene.
He's telling us there's a Macoute in outer-space sunglasses mingling among the World War II Germans and Russians.
"That's all I saw."
"Dutto, what's he look like?"
"The usual, the prototype, he's got it all. Average height."
Maybe it's Cousin Doc himself. He's not fat like Baby Doc.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON, JUNE 1
Thunderstorms are on the way. I sense their approach in the air, and here up high, looking west, I can see the first signs of their approach, far beyond the Hudson, deep in low-sky Jersey.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON, JUNE 9
I'm working on a suntan and Greta is clipping some roses. Pitcher of fresh-squeezed lemonade. She's telling me that women aren't fatalistic enough, or stoic enough, and that much of their quirky behavior after the age of 31 is because they feel dread.
It's hard to give up being a girl," she says. "The women who won't, become pathetic over time."
She says they impose this idea on themselves and that nobody makes them think like this.
"They have wills of their own. Why don't they use them for something other than dodges? A woman can be attractive at any age."
Greta's a philosopher. I'm playing the Summer CD I just burned downstairs and spreading some classic Coppertone #4 lotion on my chest for the smell and also for the American summers conjured by this fragrance.
"You're a woman who can state the obvious."
Sometimes an extreme lightness and looseness comes over us, so carefree together, here in the garden, and sometimes it's like she came from Katmandu.
I've concluded that it's one of two things -- she lives the lanky life and truly does make it up as she goes along, or by now there are so many secrets to keep that she tries to stay below the radar whenever she can. Some combination, but mainly the second one.
THURSDAY AFTERNOON, JUNE 14 - 3:30
I'm here in my office with a bottle of new-age infusion tonic with bee pollen and ginseng, which I bought on the street, on the fly, and I'm firing up a fat summertime reefer. I've got the volume up on the Summer CD.
They opened up on me as I was walking across Columbus Circle forty-five minutes ago, three of them -- one in a doorway, one standing by the statue, and one in a parked SUV with the driver's-side window open.
Three Macoutes in futuro sunglasses and full-Macoute dress.
I pulled out my .45, which was all I was carrying, and hit the one closest to me, the one in the SUV. I was lucky because I was wearing the liquid-green sunglasses and they couldn't see my eyes. They didn't know who I was going to fire on next.
I took a long look at each one of them, then I slipped into the crowd and made a fast-walking getaway as the cops were closing in on this shootout. The crowd took me in and I disappeared into it.
It happened right there at the edge of The Park, where I'd had a long lunch with the woman from Aero Caribe. She took a taxi when we finally left, but I wanted to walk.
I recognized only one -- Pink Ibo. I'd seen him one night at the Oloffson in Port-Au-Prince. He was in the Hoodoo Ballroom spinning round and round with the black women in white dresses and with a mambo. They were doing the Baboul Woule. The next afternoon I saw him again. I'd driven a motorcycle over to Les Cayes for some voodoo, and he was among the frenzied crowd sacrificing a black pig to dark spirits. I saw two of his dolls on the dash of the Studebaker Commander he was driving, the green one with the Jersey plates. I was tempted to reach in and steal these dolls, and I yielded to the temptation.
I begin thinking about the night Rumba Drums and I were riding horses through the streets of Havana. It was hot and we were riding. Their hooves made lots of heavy, rhythmic noise in the streets, and with the right pavement we were louder than the cars. Two strong horses and the breezes coming in off the bay.
It was our third night at the Hotel San Cristobal on Calle Habana.
MONDAY EVENING, JUNE 25
The voodoo-doll knifeblock came in the mail today.
No repercussions from the shootout, but it was front-page news featuring two photos -- one of the Macoute in the doorway holding his Uzi low, the other of the Macoute in the SUV, extending his right arm through the driver's window, gripping his wrist for steady shots, and firing at me. I didn't show up in either picture.
I've got a plan. I'm gonna track Pink Ibo down, and I'm gonna grab him and take him somewhere and listen to him talk.
I throw him in the back seat of the car, Greta sticks her Beretta into his ribs, then we drive off. It'll be a lightning strike and he won't know what hit him. It's a simple plan.
Pink Ibo is fair game now, and he will tell me everything he knows or he will take the slow drop down into the the East River.
The only problem with this plan is that the Macoute look has been picked up in the ten days since the front-page photos appeared. Now you see Macoutes around town. Thursday afternoon I saw five New York Macoutes walking together on Wall Street.
But I got the cheetah eye, and I could spot Pink Ibo in a stock exchange full of shouting Macoutes.
First Pink Ibo, then Rodolphe.
SUNDAY MORNING, JULY 20
We pulled it off yesterday afternoon, in broad daylight. It was sweaty and hot on the streets, and it was hazy. People were walking around like they'd been overcome by torpor, but Greta and I had energy to burn.
Before we left the garage, I took off my illegal Quebec plate and put on the equally illegal one from New Hampshire that Frankie had slipped me.
Pink Ibo was walking up Hudson, not far from Rodolphe's. We watched him from behind for about thirty seconds, I looked around for cops or any other real Macoutes, and then we made our move. I whipped the car with the fresh New Hampshire plate up to the curb ahead of him. The moment he passed us, I stepped out and gripped Pink Ibo full force around the neck, from behind. He was mine. I worked him into the back seat with mercury-slick ease, and there he got his greeting from Greta and her Beretta.
The people on the street kept walking as if nothing was going on, and I was so fast nobody would be able to identify me. But if someone could do it, it would sound like this -- good-looking white male, copper-colored suntan, blond hair, calfskin spectators, white cotton tropic-weight shirt, linen pants, liquid-green sunglasses, under a Montecristo Fino, in a Citroen. It would be a Cheetah-of-the-City sighting.
I cut left off Greenwich onto Desbrosses and we took him over to the waterfront.
I told him he was gonna talk or die, and my first question was about Cousin Doc. Pink Ibo smiled, big and easily, and told me Cousin Doc had been here for three weeks, that he flew in five days before the shootout at Columbus Circle.
Then, without asking if he could do it, Pink Ibo reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a hand-rolled cigarette. He's looking into the short barrel of my smallest .38 and he says he wants to smoke before he dies.
If I were the jumpy type, I would have shot him when he did that.
And Pink Ibo was gesturing for a light as if we were the service, almost dancing in his seat, and he almost made me smile. I nodded to Greta and she lit it for him.
As we talked, Pink Ibo began to look and sound like someone I might want to have working for me, so I asked him how loyal he was to Cousin Doc.
There was a big cloud of smoke around his head, and through it he told me in essence that he could be bought.
"I like it here in New York," he said. "I like the way it feel. I've never been here before."
Then came a string of words which I understood only part of.
As I was letting him loose, I invited him over to my place for dinner on Thursday. After that, Greta and I cruised over to one of our hideaways, the one on 3rd and 55th, for some cool drinks and a sandwich. We stayed at the bar instead of taking a table.
SATURDAY MORNING, AUGUST 3
Last night was hot and sweaty, and I went up on the roof to cool off in the garden instead of cooling off in the unnatural air-conditioned comfort of my rooms. I was leaning back in one of the chairs with an iced washcloth across my forehead, daydreaming, when Greta came through the steel door. I wasn't expecting her. She hadn't said anything about coming up.
She walked slowly toward me, as if she were in a trance, and kneeled in front of me; without ever looking at my face she began squeezing and murmuring and sucking hungrily. She was wearing a white shirt, half open, and short shorts with cuffs.
This is something she does regularly, and to someone else's eye it might appear to be compulsive, or the enactment of a ritual, or an intensely personal thing she does because of taboo urges. But I know it's because of my charm, and I'm certain that she's never done it like this with anyone else.
Last week I woke up in a start from a bad dream and sat up in bed. It was about 3:30 or 4:00. The movement awakened her, and within ten seconds she was murmuring and squeezing and sucking urgently. I don't know if she was even fully awake.
WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON, AUGUST 18
Pink Ibo and Bobby and I are having a quiet drink here at The Metropole before we drift over to Rodolphe's and stir it up. We're gonna make a pro-active strike and capture Cousin Doc and take care of any other Macoutes, Germans, Russians, or effete Frenchmen who don't run. Then I might give the woman in suspenders a kiss on the way out.
I just took a look at the Hitler and Stalin through these blue-light binoculars, and there seem to be only ten or twelve people in there, including the two we want.
SUNDAY AFTERNOON, AUGUST 24 - THE OPIUM FIELDS
ST. HELENA ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA
I'll finish the Cousin Doc story some other time. He and all the Macoutes except Pink Ibo ended up leaving town on a fast plane. They'd been pushing Rodolphe around, and he'd been taking it.
There's been a twist. I had an emergency here in the opium fields of coastal Carolina, in these Sea Island fields, in the low country. This is where the world's finest long-staple cotton was grown until it was killed by the boll weevil.
I drove the black Mustang at criminally high speeds all through the night and rolled into Beaufort / Port Royal about dawn. All the way down I straightened the curves like it was Le Mans and wasn't stopped once. It was a stealth drive down to these Gullah islands.
The Fat Man down on South Street does the dock work for the business coming in from Karachi, Istanbul, and Spain, but he doesn't know about these fields. Neither did anyone else. They were a secret, but they're no secret now.
The Sheriff wants to lock me up and charge me, but to do that he's got to get my name, get some pictures, get some proof, and then he's got to find me.
A Lil Green song comes on the radio, "Knockin' Myself Out." After this song there's a commercial for the French Foreign Legion and then it's the great Bunny Berrigan classic, "Can't Get Started."
AUGUST 29, 12:30 PM
To my surprise I was captured, and they got me on the chain gang in the heat wave. Dog days. It's Sergio Leone down here. It's the end of August, thousands of male locusts are buzzing for love in this constant heat wave, and there's no bail. Nolo Bailo. The prosecutor told the judge I was a flight risk and the judge agreed.
I'm one of fifty they're keeping out here in the country, in the woods, in these two barracks, inside a chain-link fence. Carr the Floor Walker just made his mythic delivery of the rules.
Only one fence, about nine feet high, with razor wire across the top.
I smuggled a message out and had it delivered to Frankie Panorama. This message involves some bravado and an all-purpose car hidden in the cornfield.
WEDNESDAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 4 - 7:30
For breakfast at dawn it was creamed chipped beef on toast and coffee. "You call the Captain 'Captain' and you call the rest of us 'Boss,' you hear?"
I'm swinging away on the chain gang and thinking about the first dream I had last night, and the second dream, and the one I had just before I woke up. It was a string of dreams. Somewhere a copper-colored woman dancing in a banana skirt. There was the sound of a typewriter.
And now appears an image of Greta in the jungle, when we were in Katanga Mau-Mau with Mobutu Shamamakula.
THURSDAY AFTERNOON, SEPTEMBER 5
Send lawyers, guns, and money.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1 - UPDATE FROM JOHNNY'S TECHNICIAN
That's it for Johnny. Johnny is history.
Johnny Three Years Later
The Carolina Getaway Car Waiting In The Cornfield
Tres Riches Heures
Garden of Earthly Delights
Whatta we got there?
Two Calla Lilies
Harrier Jump Jet
Office At Night
Johnny's, Part Nine
Slip note to Johnny
Late one night during a thunderstorm, Jordan called. She wanted me to drive quickly to her place and provide comfort by the light of the candles she was lighting. Although it was against all my best instincts, I did it.
Gatsby's house was still empty when I left -- the grass on his lawn had grown as long as mine. One of the taxi drivers in the village never took a fare past the entrance gate without stopping for a minute and pointing inside; perhaps it was he who drove Daisy and Gatsby over to East Egg the night of the accident, and perhaps he had made a story about it all his own. I didn't want to hear it and I avoided him when I got off the train.
I spent my Saturday nights in New York because those gleaming, dazzling parties of his were with me so vividly that I could still hear the music and the laughter, faint and incessant, from his garden, and the cars going up and down his drive. One night I did hear a material car there, and saw its lights stop at his front steps. But I didn't stop to investigate. Probably it was some final guest who had been away at the ends of the earth and didn't know.
The bridge became more than ever an object of superstitious awe, and that may be the reason why the road has been altered of late years, so as to approach the church by the border of the millpond. The schoolhouse being deserted, soon fell to decay, and was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue; and the plough boy, loitering homeward of a still summer evening, has often fancied his voice at a distance, chanting a melancholy psalm tune among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westwards. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves . . . . His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
Marlow ceased and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha. Nobody moved for a time. "We have lost the first of the ebb," said the Director, suddenly. I raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky -- seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.
When I die, I want Louis Armstrong playing "St. James Infirmary" (1929) while they walk my coffin out of the church. Before walking it out, and after the music has begun playing, the pallbearers will pick up the coffin, face the door with it, and stand there for awhile until they slowly begin to swing my coffin lightly to the beat. Nobody's in any hurry to get this coffin out of the church.
I sought, and soon discovered, the three head-stones on the slope next the moor -- the middle one, grey, and half-buried in heath -- Edgar Linton's only harmonized by the turf, and moss creeping up its foot -- Heathcliff's still there.
I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.
We treated time as if it were air.
If you stand there like a statue, Jack you're dead.
If you ain't got no red corpuscles, Jack you're dead. When your friends gather 'round and look at you and say "Don't he look natural" . . . when that happens to you, Daddy, Jack you're dead.