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Thread: The Crooked Man

  1. #1
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    The Crooked Man

    The Crooked Man (an excerpt set in 1972)

    That first tab of Owsley turned my head around and qualified me as a certified Hippie. So now I’m half way between the Beatle-hippie thing and that’s OK because the Beatles are doing the Indian Ravi Shankar thing too. It’s like a small exclusive club. We don’t splash gin or vodka or whiskey like the older generation, we smoke dope. We’re smokers, not splashers, go to love-ins, not bars. It’s a generational thing. That’s me, never taking the blame. Blame it on the generation I belong to, to the times instead. Blame it on M… M... My Generation, if that's what floats your boat. We were caught up in the sixties like glue on fly-high paper. By the seventies we were confirmed.

    Now I go to school and take art classes to keep me from going insane from all the English classes and 17th century romantic novels I have to read. I work in La Jolla in Hunter’s book store and read all kinds of travel books and romantic novels like In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan. One travel book is by a guy named Arthur Frommer who says you can tour Europe for five bucks a day! Five smackers!

    One afternoon on Brooks avenue in Hillcrest at Kristina’s apartment we’re listening to the Who and smoking Acapulco Gold, looking at a map of Europe from National Geographic. We have it open on the floor and we’re keeping it flat by placing heavy objects on the corners. One corner is held down by a geode I got from my house when my parents were into collecting rocks. The other corner is held down by an antique ashtray of a WWI tank which were using for the joint we’re smoking. I sit down on the map and she passes the roach and I take a hit and pass it back. The room grows quiet until we decide to smoke another one and I open my wallet to dig around for a Zig-Zag.

    Kristina says, “There’s the five bucks.”

    But I don’t see the bill, not exactly, I viddy it through the vapors.

    “You got it all wrong. I see the Beatles and Barcelona, and Chateaux D’if, and Paris in the rain. I’d like to drink coffee and eat croissants in a snug little café in Montmartre. And after leaving from the Gare du Nord, view from a cozy train compartment all those fairy-tale castles on the Rhine."

    She gives me a quizzical look.

    “And we could make love on the Orient Express just like James Bond and the Russian spy-girl in From Russia with Love."

    “Oh yes, I see what you mean," and she gives me another look like she wants to play. “And there’s the old crumbly Coliseum, I’d like to see that, and Venice, isn’t that Venice with its canals right there in your soppy wallet?”

    “Sure it is. I see Lucerne Switzerland and mount Pilatus. Frommer says the ghost of Pontius Pilate wanders the summit on cold nights and wails and rings his hands. You remember him, Honey; he was the Roman sleaze-ball in Ben Hur. I’d confront him and give him a piece of my mind.”

    “Mom has relatives in Sicily, we could look them up. She says they’re all gangsters.”

    “I wanna see where Mister Poe came from,” I replied. “I’d like to be a sophisticated international traveler and have thousands of good stories to tell like Somerset Maugham. And I want dope, by all means don’t forget smoking dope. Amsterdam has hash and canals too.”

    Magic Bus from the Who plays over and over in our comfortable Hillcrest concert hall with cheap smoking seats.

    “I want it. I want it. I want it.”

    “And I want it all on five dollars a day,” she prophesized.

    “Thank you Arthur Frommer, you’re one hell of an inspirational guide-book guy,” I said, and passed her the joint I just rolled. “We’ve just got to find a way to do it. Spark this up in the meantime." Live at Leeds Magic Bus

    copywrite 2013 Steven Hunley
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 12-15-2013 at 03:29 PM.

  2. #2
    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
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    Hey, Brooks Avenue in Hillcrest is just a few blocks from where my father lives.

    Repetition: "We don’t splash gin or vodka or whiskey like the older generation, we smoke dope. We’re smokers, not splashers". You also use "smoke" and "smoking" and "smoke/smoking dope" an awful lot in general. You might want to change or trim some of that for flow.
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

  3. #3
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Done. Viddy it through the vapors is more poetic anyhow. Yeah, Brooks avenue. Her parents had a rest-home for old people on 4th. She was 20 and just divorced. I was 21. We made it to Europe too. 465$ charter to London, round trip. Like Big Brother and Janis Joplin it was a Cheap Thrill.

  4. #4
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Exceprt from The Crooked Man

    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Hunley View Post
    Done. Viddy it through the vapors is more poetic anyhow. Yeah, Brooks avenue. Her parents had a rest-home for old people on 4th. She was 20 and just divorced. I was 21. We made it to Europe too. 465$ charter to London, round trip. Like Big Brother and Janis Joplin it was a Cheap Thrill.

    From The Crooked Man-

    So we’re sitting around Brooks Avenue smoking a few puffs of Red Lebanese. We have the British invasion song Don’t Bring me Down by the Animals on the turntable and cheap speakers with cardboard throats made in Shanghai. We're so sophisticated it hurts.

    Kristina said, “I found a charter company that will fly us to London for four-hundred sixty-five dollars round trip.”

    “I looked up in a book at work where we can get Eurail passes and just hop on a train. You still saving up?”

    “Every week,” she replied and took a hit, and licked her lips. “This is pretty good. How much was the gram?”

    “Eight bucks. I can’t get any more though, they’re out. Me and Marc drove all the way to Laguna Beach to get it. It’s expensive!”

    “Not as good as the Afghani Primo.”

    “No, not as good, but it tastes better. Sweeter.”

    When Kristina exhaled, a cloud of blue smoke swirled up, instantly striped with gold bars of sunlight streaming on angles through the blinds. Night blooming Jasmine on the fence in the alleyway perfumed the still air. A distant mother hollered for her little boy to come in, and an ice cream truck rolled by playing Somewhere My Love from Doctor Shivago.

    “I agree, but it’s worth it,” she concluded.

    “Two or three hits and you’re there.”

    “Yes,” she nodded.

    “They have this in Amsterdam.”

    “That’s what the book said, I read it too,” she informed me. “Is school nearly over?”

    “Over in a month. I’m working on my final art project right now.”

    “The mushroom lamp? The big one that changes colors?”

    “That’s it. Random colors cause we’ll stuff it with independently blinking Christmas lights.”

    “Won’t they burn the resin?”

    “You have to wait between coats of resin for it to set up. Once it’s hard it’s tough stuff.”

    Then in a micro-second it hit me. Amsterdam, Red Lebanese, resin, impervious to smell, Eurail passes. Eliminate the middle man and reap the profits. Make money.

    Extemporaneous Grand Tour time without Lord Bryon or the Shelley’s. It was a dirty job but someone had to do it, to carry on a Grand Literary Tradition. Dope and writing, linked arm in arm like Sonya Henie and various Hollywood male leads skating on thin ice. Risk taking. Downright thrilling. Thank goodness for Baudelaire and William Burroughs. Taking a tradition to the next level. I couldn’t wait to tell her. The stuff was so good it was giving my brain a short circuit.

    “Honey, I just got an idea. Let’s have another look at that map.”

    I was busy making a mental note. If you had cheap speakers you could always amp them up with a gram of expensive hash. It seemed like Eric was right there among us. It was a lesson I wouldn’t forget.

    I shoulda. Eric Burton and the Animals-- Don't Bring Me Down
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 01-16-2014 at 03:50 PM.

  5. #5
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Eventually the twisted European plot began to take shape. Eurail passes were scored and various guide books, dictionaries, and phrase books were accumulated. Supplies were gathered, including an innocent plastic children’s lamp suitable to fit on a nightstand. It had a hollow base, of course. Then into our bags went the resin and catalyst, Popsicle sticks for mixing, white pigment to make the resin opaque, and what have you. Before you know it, we had an untried magic trick on our hands, me the Magician Extraordinaire, and Kristina, my pretty-as-a-picture girl assistant to provide distraction. Kristina, The Woman, as Sherlock Holmes’ The Woman, the love interest, the first one I ever called my own.

    We took off from Lindberg Field, the first time either one of us had stepped on a plane, and flew to LAX. From there it was over the States from west to east and hours later it was over the Atlantic to London.

    Forget about London and that we saw Tut’s stash of treasures. Forget Barcelona where we arrived the day they won the World Cup and the whole city partied. Forget Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus, and Heidelberg as well. Include in your forgetting Paris and Marseilles and Chateaux D’if, and the rest of the vacation. Instead let’s concentrate on the thread that continues through the whole story, the thread that leads somewhere, the one that matters. Let’s go and meet Captain Jack Cardiff, the dashing long-haired handsome English ex-patriot and see what happened. He lives on a canal in Amsterdam, and for all purposes is a jolly good fellow.

    The meeting was brief, as buys usually are. Captain Jack was huddled closely against his girlfriend Meg at a table in a four-table Bistro next to a canal. Everything in Amsterdam is next to or across from a canal. We made initial inquiries on the Kalverstratat and made arrangements to meet them here after dark. After further continued introductions that really weren’t necessary we were waiting the clock out together, as he said he couldn’t score until after seven. So we talked of music and contemporary news events. After a few minutes Meg left to get a car.

    “Well, everyone knew he was odd from the get-go,” I said.

    “Back when he was singing with the Jackson Five?”

    “Even before then, but we never suspected he was a gay dude.”

    “A guy dood? What’s a guy dood?” asked Captain Jack, who had a Cockney accent.

    “You know,” I said, and leaned forward to whisper as not to offend. “A homosexual. What would you call him?”

    “I’d call him a tasty geezer.”

    “I see,” I said as solemnly as possible and burst out laughing.

    “These English,” Kristina says. “They have a way with words.”

    Meg drove up and we bundled into a banged-up Citroen and Captain Jack took over the wheel. I have to admit, after the Tasty Geezer bit I was ready to follow him anywhere. We went down a couple of streets and went down a couple of other streets. He parked and got out next to a canal. Next to Venice, Amsterdam is big on canals. He re-appeared in a minute and hopped back in. He drove with one hand, and with the other poked into his olive-drab field jacket, and handed a block of Lebanese red over the seat to us in the back. What a monster.

    He drove back and dropped us off in front of our hotel. We ran up the narrow stairs like athletes in training and halted in front of our door. Kristina fished around in her purse for the key.

    “I can’t find it!”

    “You can’t find it? A key attached to a cork float the size of Manhattan? You can’t find it?”

    “Here it is!” she held it up to the light.

    We hopped inside and shut the door and secured the lock.

    We peeled off part of the cloth bag. Rooty Kazooty, did it smell good.

    I should mention that Yellow Lebanese hash tends to be made from the first flowers of the season grown in the Baalbek valley, while Red Lebanese is made from the later flowers and displays the darker color.

    Hash from Lebanon could be bought easily in the Netherlands at a price that ensured a good mark up back in the States. Good Red Lebanese was strong and smooth on the uptake, in fact it was right tasty. This was good Red.

    Compared to the cardboard weed from Mexico it was good-tasting, gourmet-quality smoke. We smoked our heads off using a tiny bone pipe we found in a Tobacco shop. The next morning I began breaking the piece up with a butter knife, and it wasn’t easy. The flowers had been sifted, and put into a cotton bag. Then it was steamed and pressed. When we stripped the lozenge-shaped piece out of the bag, the imprint of the cloth was on the surface. Right away I knew we had problems.

    “Honey, go get the kid’s lamp.”

    She brought the red plastic lamp over from the dresser. When she flipped it over and exposed the broad base at the bottom, it looked small and I mentioned it.

    “It’s the same size it always was,” she said. “It’s the hash that looks too big.”

    “You’re right. To estimate the size I used a pound of clay from ceramics class. It was probably wet and anyway, it was stoneware! It must have been heavy for its size.”

    “Let me see,” she said, and began placing the uneven pieces into the lamp base, but no matter how many times she rearranged them they wouldn’t fit.

    “The lamp is no good,” I concluded, and sat down on the bed. “We need another lamp, a larger one.”

    Kristina walked over to the closet and took her knit cap off a hook. She peered in the mirror and tucked her curls under the hat.

    “Here,” she said, and put the pipe in my hand and fired me up.

    "When you read Sherlock Holmes and he needs an idea he pulls black shag out of a Persian slipper and has a think. Take a hit for the road. Then let’s go.”

    Out to the street we flew. Up and down every street, in and out every nook and cranny, across every bridge, on both sides of every canal. Leidsestraat, this straat, that straat, every kind of straat you could think of.

    Nothing, nada, zilch, zero, goose-egg.

    Finally in a narrow shop on a corner I notice through the windowpanes some toys and kids furniture. We go inside and are surrounded by myriads of toys. But better yet there’s cheap plastic kid furniture. There’s a stool, a red plastic stool that comes apart for storage with a white flat cap for the seat that snaps on.

    “And it’s hollow!” said Kristina, and actually jumped for joy.

    “Then, indeed, there is a God,” I answered solemnly, and bought it for five guilders, whatever the Hell a guilder is.

    Back at the hideout overlooking the canal we mixed up the batch of resin, colored it with white pigment, wrapped the Red Leb stash in plastic and crammed it into the base. We poured the resin on top, until it covered it up like a plastic cork. After a few hours it was smell-proof and hard as granite.

    We left a couple grams out for the Grand Tour. The next day we were leaving and going to mail it on the way to the station. But no! It couldn’t be done.

    “Why not?” we ask the concierge.

    “Because it’s Queen Juliana of the Netherland’s birthday.”

    “Oh,” we echo like stupid twins.

    “Well, come on, Honey, we have a train to catch.” I say it all confident like, with great bravado, as if it was plan B all along.

    On the street the taxi driver and I were putting the bags in the back. The driver pushed his gloves down over his fingers and when he was done he looked up.

    “Amsterdam Centraal.” I ordered imperiously, like I’d been sayin’ it all my life.

    “You mean…” Kristina said, and gave me a look.

    “That’s right. We’ll mail the sucker from Rome.” Coming into Los Angeles
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 01-16-2014 at 03:49 PM.

  6. #6
    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    Round here we call(ed) splashers "juicers." The respective groups of juicers and potheads were not mutually exclusive. In fact, if you put both the juicers and the potheads in a Venn diagram, the overlapping area would be quite spacious.

    Also I think you're referring to Sonja Henie not "Henning." In Sun Valley Serenade(1941) she was a brazen conniver, blatantly stealing Lynn Bari's man. But all in all she was a pretty good skate.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 01-16-2014 at 05:53 PM.

  7. #7
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Auntie!! All these years I've been saying her ice-skating name wrong! And I believe you're correct about the prevalence of "juicers" too. In The Band's first album there's a song called Chest Fever. "They say she's a juicer, but I just can't refuse her." I may have to change that too. Chest Fever The Band
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 01-16-2014 at 03:58 PM.

  8. #8
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    The afternoon was spent rolling over flatlands. By early evening we were threading between hills, and that night we were surrounded by mountains and always seemed to be going up. I pulled out seats out since they faced each other and we put our feet up. Outside all Europe seemed to rush by. I thought the consistent rhythm of the tracks would put me to sleep. I’d look across as Kristina. She’d curled her hair that morning, and resembled an angel in repose. But then she opened her eyes.

    “I can’t sleep,” she said.

    “Me neither. It’s that stuff, it’s got me worried.” I motioned to the overhead baggage and the kids plastic stool in the box.

    “You know the Italians are down on smoking dope.”

    “That’s true, but I bet they check their own people before they check us. We’re just passing through.”

    “And how do they know that?” she arched her eyebrows.

    “Well…I guess they don’t. But if we do get it through it’ll be better to have it come from Italy than Amsterdam. Our own customs won’t be so suspicious.”

    “Well, that’s something.”

    “Yes, it is.”

    Hills and more hills zoomed by and pine trees dotted the mountainous shapes, then grew and grew until they swallowed them up. Wooden fences sig-zagged into the distance, houses with steep-angled roofs took over. A white church steeple reflected the moonlight and silvered against the dark clouds. Ragged peaks covered with snow jutted up. Then we went through a tunnel and you couldn’t see a thing.

    “And it doesn’t make me feel one bit better,” said her voice in the darkness.

    “Me neither.”

    The next miles are clothed in black. We try to sleep but can’t. I don’t know what Kristina’s problem is, but mine is anxiety. I’m wondering when we’re going through customs. Will everyone have to get out? Will it happen in Rome? When will it happen?

    The next morning, in the cold grey of dawn my questions were answered at Chiasso. Italian customs and immigration got on and went through the train. Two men in uniforms come down the aisle and open the door to the compartment. They’re speaking Italian.

    Kristina gives me a look that says, “Now’s when the sh*t hits the fan.”

    Yet it’s in her eyes and only I can read it. On the outside, way on the outside, she reveals nothing in her demeanor, and remains as cool as a frozen Zucchini. The immigration officer looks at our passports and proceeds to stamp them. While he’s busy stamping, the customs dude scans us and our luggage in the overhead rack. His big brown Italian eyes under his big brown Italian eyebrows fall on the box from Amsterdam.

    He says something to us. Hell if I know what he’s saying but my eyes have been following his, and whatever it is, I don’t like the sound of it.

    I look puzzled. Kristina looks puzzled. That’s our extemporaneous strategy. Look puzzled.

    Whatever it was he said, he says it again. We shrug our shoulders and look puzzled. He gets upset and says it one more time emphatically, and motions towards the box.

    The jig is up.

    I reach up and get it down and hand it to him. Kristina remains as calm as ever and plops back in to the seat and pretends to read a magazine. One thing I discovered is that smugglers have to be good at pretending.

    He opens the box and glances inside. He raises his eyebrows, gives the immigration officer a look, then us a look, and shrugs his shoulders. The immigrations officer just raises his eyebrows, cranes his neck to one side, and sticks out his lower lip. Two seconds later they’re out the door and in the next compartment.

    I put the box back up and hearing a sputtering noise we look out the window. There are a few narrow streets, some red tile roofs, and a church steeple rising off in the distance. The sun is breaking through early morning clouds as a Vespa zooms by with a young man in a fashionable suit driving and his dark-haired lover hanging on with both hands for dear life, or for love, same thing. They just miss a man pushing a cart of vegetables who motions to them by flipping his fingers under his chin.

    “Italy looks pretty kosher to me,” she says.

    “Me too. I like its attitude. Here, give me a kiss."

    In a few more sun-lit hours we were in Rome.
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 01-17-2014 at 05:08 PM.

  9. #9
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    They call Rome the Eternal City, and because of that it’s also one of the world’s largest open-air museums, and the Coliseum sits in its center like a faceted jewel made of bricks set in an antique setting.

    Unlike many museums there seemed to be no ticket window, entrance gate, and certainly no guards. Even so we never planned to steal it. It just happened. We picked an arch and walked in. The sun was overhead but the wind was blowing around the puffy white clouds, plunging the ruins into darkness, and then merging them into the dazzling light of day.

    The place was ochre, olive and brown. There was one large piece of shining white marble carved with a V. It hit me that much of it had been white marble at the start. One by one the smaller pieces had disappeared and were now dispersed to the far corners of the world. It made me jealous. Every tourist was a stinking thief.

    We walked up the stairs to take a better look. A dust devil swirled violently, blocked out time and space, forcing us to close our eyes.

    I, the one who’s in the past, thought I heard voices. In one ear I heard squeals of awe and delight, in the other ear screams of fear and pain.

    Kristina, always in the present, smelled ancient dust being lifted by still more ancient rain. We were both right, it all had been or was.

    A steel-grey Italian cloud overhead began to spit heavy rain drops.

    I pressed her back under an archway.

    We were close. We'd always been close. Each had qualities the other wanted. I was educated, reserved, and cautious.

    Kristina was an ingénue, spontaneous and daring.

    We desired what each other possessed, and in sharing that mutual hunger, in sharing that mutual thirst, became bedmates.

    "It's stopped," she said looking up," Come on. Let's dash to the top."

    She took my hand. We took the stairs two at a time. A short marble pillar sat nearby, the squat remnant of what had been a stately fluted column.

    She sat on top. "Take my picture," she said," smiling."

    I did. As we walked away she ran her fingers carelessly over the wall, like a pig-tailed schoolgirl dragging her fingers across a picket fence on the way home from school.

    "It's loose, “she said." It wiggles!"

    She rocked it back and forth.

    "Let me see," and carefully grabbing a corner I pulled it out.

    No alarms, no laser beams, motion detectors or infrared. I just put it in my pocket.

    After we got back later that night we made sandwiches on the table in the hotel room. It’s funny but as cheap as hotel rooms in Rome can be, if you listen to Frommer and know where to go, they all have plenty of marble. All kinds, all colors of marble. The bed frame was antique, but the marble was even antiquer, if you know what I mean.

    We smoked a bowl and she fell asleep. I wanted to, but my thoughts were keeping me up. I couldn’t stop thinking about the brick. I worried about it. I was concerned. If some Corsican bandit had burst through the door just then with a brace of pistols and a plumed hat, the brick was the last thing he would have taken. It looked like a doorstop. But I knew better.

    Vespasian first saw the Coliseum in a dream. He had plenty of time to dream, having been banished to Sicily by Nero for falling asleep during one of his poetry readings. Now he was keeping bees. Later he would be keeping all of Rome.

    In the year of our Lord, one thousand nine hundred seventy-two, this piece of Italian clay, first pressed by prisoners taken during the sacking of Jerusalem, then fired by slaves who washed their hands in the Tiber, ended up with me. It was in my care, and wrapped up in plastic hidden in the back of the closet under a pile of dirty socks.

    I got up, walked over, sorted through the pile of stink, and tore off the bag. I would give Vespasian's creation room to breathe and handle it carefully, show it some fricken respect.

    A Roman emperor’s dream now rested between my fingers and thumbs. Never mind the two thousand years. Time was fleeting. Time was nothing. The brick was in my hand, today, right now, at this very moment. I could feel it's ancient weight as if it were soaked in the blood of a thousand Christian martyrs soft as lambs, and a thousand gladiators hard as steel. Blood is always the same color, no matter who spills it.

    I mean, who did I think I was, to steal from an emperor? A common thief? I should be thrown to the lions.

    I decided right then to return it. Maybe in a few years. Maybe. Maybe....never.
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 02-02-2014 at 01:34 PM.

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