Mather Schneider

Hermosillo Fire

Saturday, Saturday, pretty Saturday. The melon-man drives by in his little truck selling cantaloupe and watermelon. Yesterday was Black Friday. People trampled themselves bloody in hideous stampedes for discounted luxury items like mile-wide TVs, video games, flavored underwear, microwaves, who knows what else. I barely got out of bed all day. 

Before Natalie got deported, we used to get up at 3:30 a.m. Natalia worked the breakfast shift at McDonald’s and I drove a cab. For 15 years we did that. We hated it, and dreamed of escaping it. Then the decision was made for us. Now we live in this tiny house in Hermosillo with Natalia’s parents. We make do. We try to look at the bright side. 

On Thursday night a vagabond lit a fire in the dump behind the house here on Avenida Economia. The houses stretch for a few blocks in a straight line, all flat-topped with cement roofs, separated by a 3-foot gap, so that an agile child can run the length, leaping like a steeplechase over the empty spaces. 

I was good and snozzled when we all saw and smelled the smoke. It was no joke, really barreling up like a locomotive. I climbed up the old home-made ladder to the roof of the house to do some surveillance. A cement block wall separates the houses from the dump. The blaze was rising like crazy in the dark night. Holy shit! A million mercurochrome tentacles. The unspeakable crackling, like glass hibiscus flowers crunched between the yellow teeth of Godzilla. Too much dry grass and garbage back there. 

“Hand me the hose!” 

I stood up there on the roof and used my thumb to arch the hose water, what little pressure came out of it, over the cement block wall into the flames. It helped, I warded it off our little area at least. Soon others were up on their roofs doing the same, or just using buckets. The children were having a hoot, running, screaming, laughing. Everyone else was flooding the street, watching the show. Hell approaching, let’s party! The heat and red light on our faces up there on the roof: booga booga! Good thing Natalia paid the water bill.

I stood with that hose water arching out and it was like pissing in a dream and you just piss and piss and piss. Existence, yes? It took me back to the fires of my youth. All the weenies roasted, all the ants killed with magnifying glasses on summer Illinois days in the ditch-weed. My grandfather’s bonfires in the back 40, throwing an old tire on there to really get it going, that furious black tunnel of smoke crawling up into the sky, so thick it seemed you could climb it like Jack and the Beanstalk. Fires on the banks of the Illinois river among the dead fish and the oily water and the train tracks where the trains came with their howling wind and madness. 

The fire seemed to come under some control there behind that cement wall in the Hermosillo dump. Whew! Hey, somebody toss me a beer! I stood up there and drank a beer and a neighbor kid launched himself over the gap from the next house and stood next to me, his brown face glowing.

“And you? What do you want, chamaco?” I said.

“Are you from the other side?”

“What gave it away?”

“Is it true what they say?”

“What do they say?”

“That life is better on the other side?”

“No, that’s not true.”

“But people have money there.”

“Some do, yes.”

“Do you have a computer?”

“No. I have a notebook.”

“I don’t have a computer either. Do you have a cell phone?

“Yes I have a cell phone.”

“I don’t. You wouldn’t have an old one you don’t want anymore?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t. Who you gonna call, anyway?”

“I don’t know. Somebody.”

“Does your father know where you’re at?”

“No.”

“What’s your father do?”

“He’s a bricklayer.”

“That’s a noble profession. He sounds like a good man.”

“Yeah.”

I gave him a 20 peso note and he shot off like a spark over the rooftops. Other children watched me from the dark, little raccoon eyes. The crowd on the street was giddy and we were all almost sad to see that the fire had given up. It never did leap the cement block wall. I climbed down from the roof and finished my beer at my little table with the spiders. Natalia and everyone filtered back into the houses. 

An hour later the fire truck came. The firemen stood around the truck looking at the remnants of the coals for a while, then they left. I sat in the dark. I wondered how we were going to make it, living in Hermosillo with our money running out. I reached my hand into the beer cooler but there was nothing but dirty melted ice.

Nicole Morning

A Catalog of Dudes I Boned

I wrote a zine about online dating and I like to share it with people I’m trying to date, even though it gives me intense anxiety to do so. It’s an accurate (though fictionalized) portrait of my troubled relationship with sex and men and life, and it’s full of things I want potential partners to know about me. Such as: I’m a great fucking writer; I write about extremely intimate topics; I prefer ethical non-monogamy; I’m a slut; I don’t think slut is a bad word.

The problem is, sometimes I ​feel​ like slut is a bad word. My defiant reclamation of the title is still in process. When I got called a slut in high school, it was most definitely a bad word, used both to hurt and classify me. When other people hear me use the word to describe myself, some of them are shocked and appalled. Using the word as a shameless celebration of myself, applying the term on my own terms, is an ongoing fight.

Last summer I met this dude on social media, (we’ll call him Brad) and we started interacting a lot, and we both felt a pretty magical spark of connection. This was during early lockdown, when everyone was reeling from sudden intense isolation. We were chatting and video chatting a bunch. He’d never had such an experience with someone he met online, and he felt weird about it. I decided to make it more weird by sending him the zine. I warned him in advance of the salient & sordid features, and I said I would understand if he didn’t want to read it.

About seven minutes later, Brad texted back the following:

Oh God, this is just a catalog of dudes you boned.

Now. The zine is like 40-some pages long, so I knew he didn’t have time to read the whole thing. There’s definitely sex in it. The protagonist definitely bones a lot of dudes in it. The zine opens with a cast list of characters, many of whom get boned in the course of the zine. Do you like the way I’m repeating the verb? The stupid ridiculous high school verb? Brad is forty years old, and now I know I’ll never bone him.

The thing is, above all else, my zine is about the search for beauty and tenderness and connection. I’m generally not into fucking people for the sake of fucking. I’m sexually adventurous and I’m an inherently, unequivocally sexual being. I love sex. I love humans. I love connection. Sex in its best form, in my opinion, is beautiful human connection, even when it’s casual, often, or kinky. This is, I think, the obvious and overarching thrust of my zine.

So I texted Brad back, ​no, it’s not.​

And he replied, ​how many?

And I said, I​ don’t know​ and

What difference does it make?

And he replied, ​how many​ and

Just estimate.​

He kept pressing for a number, and the more he did, the more I squirmed internally. Shame, shame, shame.

I have no idea how many. I don’t keep count. I don’t, in fact, own a catalog of all the dudes I’ve boned.

All my favorite people like the zine, and my number one favorite lover ​loves​ the zine. His pet name for me is a (secret) phrase that includes the word ​slut,​ and he uses it with infinite affection and admiration and I love it. There’s nothing insulting about the way he uses it.

There’s also nothing wrong with people who don’t fancy sluts. Everyone has the right to choose how and with whom they engage. Everyone has the right to determine their own relationship with and opinion about their own sexual behavior. Their own.

The truly fucked up thing about Brad insisting on a number is that I could tell there was a number that would’ve been acceptable to him. In the course of the conversation, that became increasingly clear. If I had fucked under a certain number of people, I would’ve been in a morally acceptable range for him. He didn’t know the actual number, the cutoff point, but he had a general idea of how many was too many. A vague idea in his self about what was a lot and what was a slut.

Well, Brad. I don’t need to know the number to know I’m a slut. I don’t need your morals to tell me whether or not I’m acceptable to myself.

I boned a dozen dudes. A hundred. A thousand. I boned a billion dudes and I loved every minute of it.

There’s no catalog but the one kept in all the corners of my heart, all the contours of my life. Anyone who cares to know me may read it any time, just by looking in my eyes.

Wayne F. Burke

SECURITY

Sam No Shirt talks on and on while cupping the telephone receiver to his ear and taking swigs off a brown quart bottle of beer. A black stripper comes in at ten; she bends over the desk to sign in. I look down the front of her dress and she smiles at me. She looks a little like Haley Mills, the actress…Then a taxi cab driver; then a guy who works as a proofreader; then some punk rockers who use the hotel studio; then the drunk, walking as if pushed from behind, and crashing through the door to the elevator; then a dope dealer dressed all in black like Johnny Cash; who even looks like Johnny Cash–a Johnny Cash who has spent time in a concentration camp. Then the girl who brings guys up to her room comes down and demands I move the drunk, who has, she says, passed out in the hall by her door. I get up from the desk and walk to the elevator,a big stack of keys jingling at my waist. I get off at the 4th floor. The drunk is face-down, his dress shirt and red face soaked from the bucket of water the girl who brings guys to her room at any time day or night doused him with. The drunk’s key is in his door. I drag the drunk into his room and throw the key in after. The girl who brings many guys up to her room not to play checkers, and whose face is painted like several kinds of flowers, slams shut her door.

John Yohe

The Power of Pantyhose

Part of the thrill of wearing pantyhose is, like buying a porn magazine used to be, ‘having’ to buy them, in public, in person. The humiliation/shame creates tension, the secret no longer secret, though, like with magazines, the thrill only comes (excuse the pun) from buying them from an attractive woman. The fact that anyone in retail even cares about who buys what is something I choose to ignore.

Though once, living in Los Alamos, New Mexico for the summer, I went grocery shopping, and feeling perverted/horny, threw some pantyhose into my basket (a good ruse—hideable under the apples and rice, in case I actually ran into someone I knew) looking, of course, for an attractive woman checker. None were to be had and I almost put them back, but went through with it, getting a male checker who, I hoped, would just assume I had a girlfriend at home wanting me to pick up some pantyhose for her, because that happens all the time, right? But, luck: a cute young woman bagged my groceries. I watched her. When she got to the pantyhose, she paused, holding them in her hand, having a ‘one of these items does not belong with the others’ moment. Then she looked at me and grinned knowingly. My god, that was the fantasy: She knew exactly what I was going to do with them, and her smile said that she found this amusing and kinky and freaky and she’d probably even tell her girlfriends about it later. After I’d paid, she handed me the bag, saying, again knowingly, ‘Have a good night!’ I should have asked her to marry me.

I resisted the curiosity/desire to wear pantyhose though it had been with me for years, telling myself that actually doing it would cross some kind of line, on a slippery slope to gayness, or bisexuality, or at least true perversion (as if any of those things were bad). Becoming a fairly serious runner changed that. At an expo for my first marathon, in Chicago, I bought a pair of running pants, for colder weather, and, that night, put them on, alone in my bedroom. I already knew they were going to feel, and look, weird, because ‘real men’ don’t wear tight stretchy clothing, and rolling them up my legs, I was extremely conscious that they were basically hosiery. And, they, I, felt erotic/sexy/and yes feminine, as hell. Sexy and erotic because feminine. Black and shiny, my legs, my whole lower body, felt caressed. Naked almost, knowing my body was being (or would be, if I were in public) shown off, and my cock and balls forming a bulge, but my legs and ass sleek, smooth. This was too important to deny: I would have to wear pantyhose. I wondered about the embarrassment, or potential embarrassment, of wearing the running pants out in public, but that didn’t turn out to be true, or mostly not, not that big of a deal at all, and the erotic feeling of wearing them is basically, mostly, gone. I do often wonder though, what women think, whether seeing men in running pants is at all as erotic for them as it it for us (or, me) seeing women in them, or if we men look a little ridiculous/emasculated. And if that is erotic to women.

One of my favorite writers, Charles Bukowski, hated pantyhose, and wrote on more than one occasion with nostalgia for the time when one could sometimes catch the magic and madness of a woman stopping in public to lift her skirt and adjust her stockings.

A generational thing? Women around my age act horrified by pantyhose, because their moms and grandmothers wore them, and they were, admittedly, back then kind of murky and dull-looking. But younger generations of women seem to have embraced nylons again, in the form of colored tights.

Like many things in my life, it took the encouragement of a woman to actually make me cross(dress) the line and wear pantyhose for the first time. Part of my attraction to that woman, M., was that she wore pantyhose. The first time we had sex, I undressed her except for her pantyhose and, after especially dirty pantyhose-enhanced/inspired foreplay, only pulled them down enough to actually enter her from behind.

She was up for anything really, recently divorced and wanting to do all the kinky things she’d heard about but had never been able to do. We didn’t live in the same city, so had a long distance relationship, which went on for over a year, thanks in large part to phone sex, and the thing about phone sex is it’s conducive to confession, because you’re just talking to a disembodied voice, in the dark. So, she very soon knew about my perversion. And, didn’t reject me. In fact, the next time we saw each other in person, she showed up in a long black wool coat (this was Chicago in the Winter after all), smiling, and before even kissing me (or I don’t remember the kissing part) took a pair of Victoria’s Secret pantyhose out of her coat pocket and handed them to me. She was wearing a matching pair underneath and, after showing me, sat on the bed and watched me put mine on. 

I was actually trembling, fearing/knowing I was going to look ridiculous, guilty knowing she was doing this for me, that she’d have been just as fine with me fucking her naked like a normal (real) man. But the pleasant surprise was seeing her face light up as I pulled the lace panty section up around my cock and balls: she liked it! She liked seeing me in pantyhose! It wasn’t just something she was doing for me anymore—it turned her on. Of course I was still embarrassed and ashamed, but very very grateful.

The gusset is the cotton panel section between the legs (I hate the word crotch) which allows the pussy to breathe. The gusset might be the main reason women don’t think pantyhose are sexy, because, compared to the diaphanous goodness surrounding it, it’s not, and in fact blocks the pussy from sight, but that is the magic: gusset as tease enhancer. A woman can wear pantyhose in front of a man, revealing almost everything but that one thing, the gateway, still denied.

One of my guilts about pantyhose is that nylon is a petroleum product. Meaning it’s kind of like a woman has been picked up by a crane and dipped in a vat of oil. The only alternative, silk (mm, silk….) is just too expensive. Then only rich women could show off their legs, and only rich men could enjoy them.

Other guilts: that human sexuality, sexiness, sexual pleasure, are all determined/informed by/a result of technology and consumerism. That is, one has to buy a product for sexual pleasure. But, I guess we passed that point of no return centuries ago. Taking sexy clothing away from women (if you could tear it from them) would merely make us look like China in the 1950s. Or like the Taliban.

Another erotic in-person night with M.: buying matching black pantyhose/tights at a grocery store, plus a disposable camera to take pictures of each other (with black and white film, so as to be classy). We went back to her apartment, put on the pantyhose, and posed for each other, which she loved, wanting both ‘classy’ shots of herself, plus some raunchy porn mag angles. Then she said, ‘You need to wear a dress.’ I hadn’t suggested it, she was taking the initiative, which was scary. Unfortunately, she was so petite that the only thing of hers that would even barely fit was a knit-wool one-piece dress—not exactly slinky, though tight. When I put it on, she made her sexy ‘Mmmmm’ sound. One of the most erotic moments in my life. That, plus being behind her, my hands on her smooth warm back and breasts, my pantyhose cock rubbing against her pantyhose ass. I felt like a lesbian.

One sub-fetish of the pantyhose fetish is ‘encasement,’ in which a woman is ‘encased’ in nylon: a pair of pantyhose where they’d normally go, a second pair with the gusset cut out, so the she can wear them like a shirt, then a stocking over her head and face, the excess material tied off in a ponytail.

One embarrassing though seemingly relevant incident: In junior high, having problems in algebra, not doing well, my mother arranged to come in after school to talk to my teacher, and she actually dressed up for it, the only time I remember her wearing pantyhose and a dressy skirt. She arrived just as kids were leaving, and as she was walking up the main hall towards me, guys I knew and didn’t like whistled and catcalled, looking at her legs. I did do better in class after that though.

More: My stepmom has great legs, and used to wear a business suit/skirt outfit to work every day. She’s closer to my age than my dad’s. She has, along with most (American) business women, since switched to the pantsuit look.

I wore my stepmom’s pantyhose.

The first time ever seeing myself in pantyhose in a full-length mirror: me as a woman. That is, if I were a woman, that’s what I would look like. Or, the woman that had always been inside of me? And even while I knew I looked ridiculous, I also felt, and (therefore?) looked, sexy. No dress, no make-up, just a wispy piece of nylon to make me re-see myself.

I jacked off looking at myself. 

I jacked off to myself. 

I jacked off wanting to fuck myself, somehow.

In the UK, pantyhose are called tights—females of all ages just wear tights. In America, somehow the term pantyhose ended up being for what women wore, while ‘tights’ were for girls, though pantyhose were/are generally flesh-colored, while tights were/are colored (green, blue, etc.). My theory is that Americans, as Puritans, had to come up with a different name for what girls wear, so as to de-sexualize them, which of course backfired, because now young women wearing tights is sexy as hell, having an aura of ‘appearing younger than they are’-ness, à la the catholic schoolgirl plaid skirt.

College. My dorm room. A girl, H., I am just starting to see, agrees to come to bed with me. I can get naked if I want, and do, and she even takes off her dress and bra, but she keeps her blue tights on. We lie on our sides, my cock rubbing against that warm nylonned ass. Her comment: ‘They’re not stockings or anything.’ 

Same girl, a week later, at her place. I’m sitting in a chair, she stands in front of me and raises her skirt, revealing green stockings and a garter belt, no panties. She climbs on my lap, kissing me, aggressive.

Conclusion: for women, dressing sexy for sexy-sex means easy access to their pussies—or the potential, that a man could easily (if she wanted him to) lift her skirt and be inside her quickly. Pantyhose would have be taken off first, thereby losing the heat of the moment. Curious the admittal that thigh-highs are sexy because they show off the legs, which is exactly what pantyhose and tights do. Men in most cases never knowing (unless women grant them access) the difference, which kind of hosiery she is wearing. All they see are the legs.

I remember when pantyhose started to be marketed as sexy in the late 70s. That one commercial, for Sheer Energy (or L’eggs?) of an astoundingly sexy asian woman (so as to emphasize the silkiness I suppose) smiling and showing off her shiny legs. My god, I was eleven or twelve, just hitting puberty, just discovering masturbation. After seeing that commercial, more than once I ran back to my room and rubbed myself naked against a pillow thinking of her, her shiny smooth nylonned legs.

Note: tights also refer to the type of hosiery worn in northern climes, mostly by girls but also women, which is still ‘tight’ and stretchy, but fuzzy and warm, so as to be able to wear a skirt/dress in cold weather. They’re very much less sexy—not shiny or diaphanous or sleek—and not as common, especially for women, as when I grew up in Michigan, though seem to be coming back in fashion, a little, where I am now, in Portland. 

Minor awkwardness: getting to know a woman on an online dating site, at the email stage. At one point I sort of flirtatiously ask her what she’s wearing, and she says tights. My response? ‘Mm, tights, I love tights.’ Which I could tell she thought was a little odd, but she was into some pretty kinky stuff (if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it) so was fine with it, and in fact, said she liked wearing them. When we met in person, she wore some for me, which was awesome, except they were the warm fuzzy kind. We didn’t date long—she lived in another city, and we just didn’t quite have enough spark, but I wonder—what if she’d shown up wearing, say, shiny black tights? Except, she just wasn’t a shiny black tights kind of woman? But still.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to six continents over the years, and pantyhose are way more common in other parts of the world, at least in cities. Something about America precludes women wearing hosiery more. I know some people would argue this is because America is more enlightened and American women more equal/liberated. And that may be. Can’t be a coincidence that latinas, from Mexico to Chile, wear pantyhose all the time, in a decidedly machista culture. Ditto Japan: Barbara Kingsolver’s gobsmackedness in an essay about Japan on seeing Japanese girls playing tennis while wearing pantyhose. Except, how then to explain the Middle East?

Seamless pantyhose, designed for no other purpose than to be sexy: No gusset, the pussy visible behind the diaphanous protective layer if the dress or skirt is raised or discarded. Visible and even enhanced, but still not truly touchable/lickable: the woman still has control, can still deny.

Companies whose sole product is designer pantyhose. 

And the women who buy them.

If you are a woman reading this, and still doubt the power of pantyhose, buy a pair and see how you look in front of a mirror. How they make you feel. Notice the attention you receive in public.

The argument: that clothing is sexy because worn by sexy women. But not with pantyhose, or at least not completely. Pantyhose add at least 10% to a woman’s attractiveness level. Physically, plus they signify something. About a woman’s personality. 

The teasing-ness. The confidence in knowing she is showing off her legs.

Young women embracing hosiery, wearing tights: colored and/or black (mmm, black) with a little ‘streetwalker chic’ thrown in in the form of fishnet tights. I am all for this, though I fear they would just say they are trying to look ‘nice?’

My favorite mens magazine, back when men’s magazines were a real financial option (i.e. before the internet really took off) was Leg Show, originally edited for many years by Diane Hanson. Full disclosure: she was the first editor to ever buy a story of mine (later chosen for the Best American Erotica of 2004!). Diane was highly aware of men’s various hosiery/leg/foot fetishes, and in many editorials she talked about trying to balance readership demands between women in pantyhose, and women in old-school stockings and garterbelts. She always included some of each, plus women in ‘modern’ thigh highs, and different kinds of pantyhose (gusset vs. seamless for example). And, to appease the real foot fetishists, Diane would always include a couple photos in each pictorial of bare feet. Meaning, unfortunately, that the woman had to take the hosiery off. I always skipped those photos, pretending they didn’t exist.

The whole point of hosiery—ok, not the whole point, but an important one—is that a woman’s feet should be encased in nylon. I don’t necessarily have a foot fetish, I can’t just jack off to a picture of a woman’s feet like some guys, but feet are erotic. Or can be. I love to give women foot massages, mainly for the effect it has on them (i.e. they tend to lose complete control) and kissing and worshipping of the feet is part of this. So, ok, I guess I do have a foot fetish. But, I would kiss and worship every part of an attractive woman. And have. Still, anyways, those tights American Apparel sells? The footless ‘leotard chic’ ones? They’re less, though still, sexy. But ballerinas in leotards and tights? Fucking hot.

I even like bare feet: I go barefoot all the time and would love a girlfriend into the barefoot lifestyle. Thus, more guilt.

Should I should mention yoga pants and/or leggings here? They have kind of the same effect, and at least right now, as of this writing, women are wearing yoga pants out and about instead of, say, tight jeans. Which I understand—they’re more comfortable. But goddamn are they sexy too, because tight (and usually black and mysterious) and anything tight is good, though the emphasis is less on the legs than the ass. Surely women must be aware of this. Surely they don’t wear yoga pants purely because they’re comfortable. Otherwise they’d just wear sweatpants?

En France, pantyhose and tights are ‘des collants.’ ‘Collant’ means ‘tight’. Sometimes ‘bas culotte’—literally ‘panty stockings’. Thigh-high stockings? ‘Les bas à la cuisse’ or ‘bas pour jarretelle’ (jarretelle = garter belt).

A French woman invited me to bed (as they are wont to do) and took off her jeans to reveal black pantyhose underneath. She only wore them for an extra layer in cold weather, but mon dieu, I basically attacked her.

Surely my love for hosiery must be related to my love of superhero comic books when I was younger, both in my desire for a world in which strong smart athletic women go around wearing tight body suits all the time, and in seeing ‘men in tights.’

Pantyhose signifying different things to different people, especially depending on gender, but also sexual orientation, age, and location. Also, race, class and religion.

Another long-distance relationship girlfriend, N., up in Minneapolis, normally a jeans and t-shirt kinda gal, getting ready for her symphony rehearsal, walks out of her bedroom in just blue tights, and even though we had sex earlier, I immediately grab and kiss and touch her, telling her how hot she looks. Though we’re running late, she lets me pick her up and carry her back to her bed, where, with her legs on my shoulders, I pull the tights up just enough to fuck her. Uncharacteristically (I swear), I last about five seconds. She seems strangely satisfied and amused about this.

I’m not even advocating high heels. I know they’re horribly bad for feet, though I know too how sexy they feel, but, and I know some men (and women) will disagree, women wearing ‘flats’ are just as sexy. With hosiery.

My Winter in Salamanca, Spain, where all the teen girls seemed to be wearing mini-faldas with pantyhose and hiking boots. As if, yes, I enjoy dressing sexy for you, but if you treat me badly I’ll kick you in the balls.

En America del Sur, pantyhose/tights are ‘pantimedias.’ En España, ‘pantis’ or ‘pantys,’ while panties are ‘bragas.’ Stockings are ‘medias’ in both places.

My attraction to K., another girlfriend, was that she wasn’t a high maintenance woman—we’d met working at a National Park—and she generally just wore jeans, or shorts, and holes in her underwear were not uncommon. She just didn’t really understand my thing for hosiery, though nonetheless we did talk about sex, and share fantasies. Or rather, I did, since she claimed she didn’t have any (?!), and always accused me of being too much in my head, and not in my body. Which was true: eroticism, to me, is in the mind. Or at least a mix of mind and body. She was all body though. Still, one time—we would break up and I would move out soon thereafter—I bought her some Victoria’s Secret pantyhose and she wore them for me, even taking me up on my request to sit on my face. Our incompatibility with sex a manifestation of our incompatibility in general. Or, her medical problems and bi-polarism not compatible with my depression and fear of intimacy. But, talking on the phone with her a little later, maybe trying to appeal to me one last time, she said, ‘You know, I actually kind of liked wearing those pantyhose and sitting on your face that time. I liked feeling your warm breath through the material on my pussy.’

My fear of intimacy: are pantyhose a way to keep a barrier between me and a woman? And/or, especially in wearing them, are they a ‘safe’ way for me to be close to a woman?

For an unusually long time, in Union Station, downtown Chicago, there was a larger-than-life picture/advertisement (it took up a whole section of wall, like 10 by 20) for Shear Energy (or L’eggs?) pantyhose in the waiting room: a woman wearing nothing but white pantyhose. Just her, no furniture, white background, sitting at an angle with her arms crossed over her knees so as to cover her breasts, with her legs stretching off to the right, staring directly at the camera, so that no matter where you were in the waiting room, she was staring at you. At me. Red toenail polish. I sat in a chair right in front of her, the room crowded, though no one but me seemed to even notice her.

That picture was there for years, if not decades: I first saw her when I was around twenty-five, so mid-90s, and her hairstyle was from the 80s. She was still there when I was in my thirties. My theory is that whoever was in charge of that waiting room was a pantyhose lover too, and just kept her there—I doubt Sheer Energy paid to keep her up. If so, you’d think they’d update the model every few years. I looked forward to seeing her every time I traveled through, which wasn’t that often, though I’m still amazed an advertisement like that would even be permitted in public. Maybe in New York City, or Europe, but the Midwest? I can’t help think she was finally taken down because of a complaint, though maybe not. Maybe someone just finally realized they weren’t making any money off that wall space. But she was, finally, gone. I still look for her.

Mather Schneider

Bologna and Grasshopper Sandwiches

In Hermosillo, I get Natalia out of bed and up on her feet with her crutches, and we drive over to Alameda’s house. We try to talk everybody into going to the beach at Kino Bay. It’s an hour drive. But Alameda doesn’t want to go, Adriana doesn’t want to go, nobody wants to go. Well little Leo wants to go. Ok now Alameda wants to go, just let her paint her nails first and call her boyfriend. Can you pick up Pablo? Sure I can pick up Pablo. If Alameda wants to go, then Adriana wants to go too. Now Suegro wants to go. He hasn’t been to the beach in 30 years. 

An hour later we are on the road with a minivan full. Blue skies, music on the radio, chorro of Spanish chatter.  

Halfway to Kino Bay we stop at a small store in a pueblo called “The 12.” Everyone’s thirsty. Everyone gets out and I stand in the sun and smoke a cigarette. This is a dusty town of rocks and poverty. A tiny Indian walks barefoot through the shattered glass and stands squinting at me with delirious drunken eyes. I give him a dollar. He never stops staring at me as he takes it and I turn away like from some boogie man in a dream.

When everybody gets back with their Gatorades and lime-chile peanuts, the car won’t start. It just turns over and turns over.

  “Start, start, start!” 

“It’s the battery!”

“It ain’t the fucking battery!”

I pop the hood and 3 Mexican guys appear out of nowhere. They dive in, arguing and checking things. The consensus is it’s the fuel pump. The fuel pump’s gone fucked itself. Well what now? It’s Sunday, no mechanic is open here. Somebody phones Arturo my brother-in-law and Arturo calls Cacharpas, the mechanic in the family. They say they’ll get the part and come on out from Hermosillo.

And we wait.

The girls fan themselves and text on their phones, but they don’t complain. Me and Suegro stand in the shade of the little store. At least 4 young Mexican kids have washed the car windows with their squirt bottles. 

There’s a taco stand across the road with green plastic chairs. We trudge over. The taco lady doesn’t want to stand up but finally she does. She ladles out a plate of greasy pork covered in flies, corn tortillas, bottled orange sodas. I ask her for a fork and she looks at me and walks away. We scoop the meat up with our hands, choke down the tacos. Everything smells like urine. A drunk sprawls on the sidewalk, arms outstretched, more sun-burnt than Jesus ever was. People step over him like a rotten banana peel. A truck crashes into a utility pole 20-feet away. We jump and watch the smoke billow from beneath the hood. Two drunk men fall out of the truck cussing at each other. 

Suegro says, “This is a town without law.”

In an hour Arturo and Cacharpas arrive. They’ve brought Cacharpas’s wife, Alma, and their 2 boys, Santiago and Chato. They’ve also brought a cooler full of beer. We push the car over to a shady spot on the edge of a vacant lot. Cacharpas checks under the car and shit god dammit they’ve brought the wrong kind of water pump. 

“I told you,” Arturo says.

“You didn’t tell me nothing!” Cacharpas says. 

They have to go back to Hermosillo and pray the auto store is still open. 

Another 2 hour wait. 

Alma and the kids stay. We drink beers and play Frisbee in the rocks and broken glass of the vacant lot. I’ve brought the Frisbee. They call it a “platillo volador” which is another name for a UFO. Alma has brought folding chairs and burritos. Natalia sits with Suegro and Alma, rubbing her knees, wondering if they will ever work right again. She smiles and waves. 

A little kid comes up to us. He’s selling fried grasshoppers. I buy a bag, eat a couple. Not bad. Better with salsa, Natalia tells me.

Arturo and Cacharpas get back with the new fuel pump. They’re drunk now and still arguing about who’s fault this whole thing is. 

“All I’m saying is we should have gone to Neto’s. Neto’s is cheaper,” Artura says. 

“Fuck Neto! Shut the fuck up!”

“Calm down, both of you,” Alma says. “You sound like an old married couple.”

Cacharpas shakes his wrench at Alma and grins. He slides under the car on a piece of cardboard and sets to work bumping his head and beating on something. 

‘The god damned gas tank has to come off,” Cacharpas says from below.

“I told you,” Arturo says, and winks at me. 

The light leaves us. Arturo pulls his car up close and turns on the brights. Nobody watches the sunset, all eyes are trained on the mechanic working his magic. The gas tank comes down and he gets it out from underneath.

“Damn, it’s heavy, got to get that gas out of there. Give me the hose.”

Cacharpas sucks on the hose to get the gas flowing into a bucket.

“You gonna kiss Alma now?” Arturo says.

“Look at this gringo gas, it’s so clean! It looks like lemonade!”

They put the gas into Arturo’s car, he’s almost empty.

“Now the radio’s gonna play gringo music!”

Cacharpas wrestles with the new fuel pump. He’s got to get it on tight. He bitches and moans and laughs, makes jokes I don’t understand. 

“Where’s the last screw?”

Everybody walks around kicking the dirt looking for the lost screw in the dark. Natalia finds it! Arturo gets in behind the wheel, crosses himself and tries to start it.

“Start, start, start!”

It starts! Everyone cheers! Cacharpas the hero! 

I give Cacharpas some money and buy more beer and gas. Everybody climbs into the cars. I’m tired and drunk.  

“Follow me, Mateo,” Arturo says.

He heads for Kino Bay. I let the tide take me, my eyes bleary in the oncoming headlights. 

45 minutes later we roll into the fishing village of Kino Bay. Everything is quiet and dark. The restaurant where we had planned to eat crab tostadas is closed. One small store is still open. Alma and Natalia buy bologna and bread and crackers and cream cheese, which they simply call “Philadelphia.” 

We walk down to the beach. The sand is warm when we take off our shoes. The heavy humid breeze brings the slush of the surf. Stars like white beans scattered with a broom.    

The kids jump in the water like goofy mer-brats. They splash and shriek with their t-shirts on. I toss the Frisbee to them. It glows in the dark. 

The women make bologna and grasshopper sandwiches and pass them around.

“Kino Bay has changed since I was a boy,” Suegro says. “Everything’s changed.”

“Was it more beautiful then?” Natalia says.

“Yes.”

“What was it like back then, Suegro?” I say.

“It was empty. There wasn’t nothing. I saw a UFO right here on this spot.”

“How old were you, Apa?” Natalia says.

“Seven or eight,” he says. “Like those kids there. I was with my brother Isidro. Isidro was a year younger. It came from way out in the ocean. It was shaped like a disc and it was very bright. It moved toward us and it hovered in the air over our heads. It was completely silent and made no wind. It was too bright to look straight into. We had to shield our eyes. The lights were blue and white. Then it flew up into the sky, and got smaller and smaller.”

Suegro’s brother Isidro died last week. I never met him. Nobody talks about him. There was no funeral or service. Somebody called Suegro and told him that his brother had died. That’s all we know.   

“Then it disappeared,” Suegro says, “over there.”

He points to the southwest. 

We turn our heads and look to where he points. Suegro wipes his eyes with his red handkerchief.

“Don’t cry, Apa,” Natalia says, putting her arm around his shoulders.

“No, Mija,” he says. 

We are quiet and sit like that for a while, staring at the night sky, wondering what’s out there, listening to the children scream and splash in the water, making our secret wishes, until it is time to go home. 

El Bastardo

The Donkey Show Family Fun Hour

I remember the days when I was young.

The days seemed to last forever and I was a young Bastardo and the world was run by real men like El Presidente Bill Clinton. A man who can blow his own horn is a man who stands apart from many.

The economy was good and the senoritas truly understood how to appreciate good sexual harassment, unlike these closet lesbians of today.

My nipples tingle at the thought of wrestling Harvey Weinstein into submission; what a sexy woman he truly is. If I was in the cinema you wouldn’t hear me complain over sitting on the casting couch.

Now the world is run by spoiled orange hair grandpas who compliment their own daughters’ tits. Of course, even Satan himself has some good qualities.

It is a strange world, much like the pussy fart; it is a humorous mystery that can often make you lose your hardito.

But enough with the foreplay, gringos.

I remember the good old days when the donkeys ran free and the senoritas were nervous. The party was fueled by good cocaine and men were celebrated for being the natural bastards we truly are.

Before the new era of the reincarnated Hitler minus the fabulous fashion sense and before shitty bands like Nickelback were allowed to make the same shitty album over and over again.

They could truly ruin the best and most beautiful scene ever.

Two lesbianos kissing in the wild.

How I wish I was like Hemingway back on safari in the savage lands of Canada.

Oh well, it seems the good times have truly left us for good.

But Hope is always there.

She works mainly on Saturdays at the Hot Seat gentleman’s club.

You have not lived till you have had a lap dance to a Celine Dion song; it is a little slice of heaven that makes me want to cry every time.

Once is a little awkward but does not worry me, for everyone knows that strippers are only half human anyway, silly boys.

And if upon reading this you are insulted in any way…

Just remember this is a joke.

Much like politics and the evening news, it all went to hell a very long time ago.

Olé,

Bastardo

Leah Mueller

Confessions of a Phone Slut

If you drop out of college before you turn 20, you might end up selling sex for a living.

At least, this was true in 1979, before the internet was a prayer inside the testicles of porn entrepreneurs. Jerking off to glossy images was a man’s sovereign right. No one wondered whether the models were oppressed while off-camera.

Magnates like Hugh Hefner tried to make his Playmates seem more human by including lists of their turn-ons and turn-offs. In painstaking balloon handwriting, young women detailed such howl-inducing faults as “Men who are dirty and loud” and “stuck-up people.” No one stopped to wonder if these descriptions fit them.

Instead, guys turned up their stereos and cranked tunes like “Imaginary Lover” as they worked themselves over. Afterwards, they drove around Chicago in their Gremlins and Pacers, looking for hot pickup action in the streets.

Chicago, before the dawn of the AIDS crisis. I worked on Howard Street on the second floor of a porn sweatshop called TRA. The acronym stood for exactly nothing. Mike, the owner, just liked the way the letters looked together.

Eventually, Mike made up an ersatz female CEO for his company, a woman called Tracey. In his irritating nasal voice, he painstakingly coached me. “You must always say, “Hello, this is Tracey, what ad are you answering? If I ever find out you’re saying something else, there will be hell to pay.”

Mike placed ads in publications ranging from Playboy to the Chicago Reader. Our boss’ daily amphetamine dosage made him dream big. TRA became so popular that he drilled holes in the wall and ran additional phone lines into the building. Employees labored at mismatched desks, scooping up receivers seconds after our phones jangled.

Our crew sold lists of swingers for $25.00, women who “liked to travel to meet sexy friends.” The process of extracting callers’ home addresses proved surprisingly easy. Men with dicks in their hands seemed eager to believe that beautiful females would travel hundreds of miles to meet strangers.

I imagined their thought process. “Oh, here’s one in Iowa City. She can jump in her car and be at my place in four hours. I’ll just give her a call, tell her I’m ready.”

Mike kept hiring new women to work the phones. He hovered over us, alternately praising and criticizing our sales tactics. Each captured address netted a $2.00 bonus. This, on top of our $3.00 hourly wage, added up to a decent weekly paycheck.

No one owned a credit card, so sales were done via COD. When the postal clerk arrived, a caller’s ardor was long spent, and he’d say, “No, I don’t want this envelope. I don’t even know who ordered it. Not me. Get it the hell out of here.” But sometimes curiosity and lust prevailed, and the stupid fucker shelled out $25.00 for a worthless list of disconnected phone numbers.

As soon as Mike left the building, the fun began. Phone protocol flew out the window. My best friend Astrid was the worst of the lot. “We have hundreds of Swedish women who like to tap-dance on your floor and braid their pussy hair into tiny dolls!” she’d say brightly. Half the time, she ended up making a sale.

My co-workers and I dug inside filing cabinets and unearthed hardcore kink. I felt both horrified and titillated as I gazed at photos of sad-looking women with mousetraps hanging from their nipples.

One night, I discovered several stacks of newsletters, all written by men with saddle shoe fetishes. Deranged souls loved to share stories about jerking off while fantasizing about pleated skirts and bobby socks. I didn’t want to imagine them washing out the shoes afterwards, but how could I not?

I’d spent my adolescence in the rural Midwest, surrounded by jocks and farmers, so I should have known how fucked up men were. I avoided jocks, preferring the company of mordant intellectuals. My boyfriend Mark was a philosophy major at Eastern Illinois University. We ran away to Chicago together, and he scored a job in a bookstore. I cycled through a series of ill-fated waitress jobs, until I finally landed the porn house gig.

My shifts lasted eight hours and often seemed interminable. Men called Tracey all night long, demanding to know how they could meet sexy friends. Phone sex for hire didn’t exist yet. The clever fellows had figured out how to get it for nothing.

A particularly terrifying man called every weekend. “I’m using a vacuum cleaner on my dick.” His voice sounded timid, almost inaudible. Perhaps the powerful machine had sucked all the air from his body. I could hear a mechanized whooshing sound in the background.

“What, is it really dirty?” one of us always guffawed.

“Yes,” he replied. “Very dirty. I’ve been so bad.”

Another fellow called nearly as often, demanding that Tracey forgo her evening’s duties and come to his home for a foursome. He played a cheesy porn tape in the background while we discussed the benefits of obtaining Tracey’s list. The two actors shrieked and moaned. Every so often, the caller turned his head away from the receiver and hollered, “Would you please be QUIET? I’m on the phone!”

The Phone Sluts all had imaginary boyfriends, guys who called and asked to speak directly to us. We employed clever monikers; false names so far removed from our real ones that no one could ever figure out who we were.

My Phone Slut name was Melissa. Over time, I acquired a coterie of male admirers. I attracted brainy guys who wanted to discuss cinema and literature. They didn’t jerk off until after our conversations had ended. It was polite of them.

Though Mike had forbidden us to meet in-person with our phone boyfriends, several of us flaunted his authority and did exactly that. The Phone Sluts played a dangerous game, but it was 1979 and we felt invincible.

One night I picked up the phone and heard a low, soothing voice. Its cadence sounded almost familiar. “I’d like to meet women who are into oral sex and light bondage.” A couple of drunk men chuckled in the background. One of them dropped a bottle on the floor and cursed.

“Only light bondage?” I replied. “What are you, a wimp?”

The caller laughed. “Nothing sexier than a sense of humor. Actually, I just made that up. My name’s Paul. Tell me something about yourself.”

A week later, he called again. “Melissa, it’s Paul on the line,” one of the Phone Sluts said, giggling.

“Oh shit, he’s a goddamn alcoholic,” I said. “I don’t want to talk to him.”

I accepted the receiver anyway. A week later, Paul became my boyfriend. Mark and I had drifted apart. We didn’t have much to say to each other anymore. The porn job had turned me from a naïve girl into a cynical, angry bitch.

My new boyfriend wore a black leather jacket and owned a Fender Stratocaster. He drank quarts of beer and played scorching blues riffs, using his toilet paper spindle as a slide. Paul wasn’t an intellectual like Mark but could be quite entertaining when he wasn’t in the middle of a blackout.

Though Paul had met me via the porn house, he exhibited an inordinate amount of jealousy towards my imaginary phone boyfriends. He insisted I quit but had nothing to offer as an alternative. If I wanted to keep my independence, I needed to hold on to my sleazy gig for as long as possible.

I worked the night shift, from 5:00 PM until long past midnight. After continued practice, I developed a brisk, business-like style, one geared to attract high bonuses. My co-workers’ phone romances blossomed and developed cartoonish dimensions. Though I felt more than a bit jealous, I had my hands full with Paul.

The phone room drew a young crowd. We either rented cheap studio apartments or shared cockroach-infested flats with roommates. One of the employees, Mary, was in her mid-forties. She lived with her cop husband, a man so addled that he often called the phone room, threatening to use his vast network of police connections to shut the place down.

Mary was the most promiscuous Phone Slut of the lot. Men liked her even more than Tracey. Her phone jangled several times every night. Breathless male voices whispered, “Is Mary there?” as if they were high school boys calling an unattainable prom queen.

Mary’s favorite paramour was a man named Buddy. He called almost every evening and promised eternal love and the contents of his bank account. Buddy owned a successful gas station in rural Alabama. He adored Mary and wanted desperately to meet her. The poor man proclaimed his ardor in a loud, fervent voice, as we all covered our mouths and tried our hardest not to laugh.

There was something poignant about Buddy’s love. Also, the routine entertained us so much that we didn’t want to hasten its ending. Mary sometimes wondered whether she should egg him on, but her only other option was to go home and listen to torrents of abuse. Who could blame her for preferring a fantasy?

One night, at the end of an especially long shift, Mary’s phone rang. Without thinking, I scooped up the receiver. “Hi, this is Tracey.” My mechanical voice seemed to emanate from the other end of the room. “What ad are you answering?’

Buddy’s thick twang assaulted my eardrums. “Please, can I speak to Miss Mary?”

I thrust the receiver in my co-worker’s direction, but she shook her head. Sensing her distress, I covered the mouthpiece with one hand. “What’s wrong?” I hissed.

Mary buried her face in her palms. “I just can’t do this anymore. He bought a plane ticket and plans to come see me in Chicago next week. I don’t have the heart to say I won’t be there to pick him up at the airport. Tell him I quit or something.”

I removed my hand from the mouthpiece. “I’m sorry, Buddy,” I said, without skipping a beat. “Mary left town. We’re not sure where she went. She hasn’t been here for three days.”

Buddy emitted a low, shuddering gasp. “Oh no. Does anybody know where she lives?”

“I’m afraid not, Buddy. It’s a complete mystery. None of us really knew her.” I gazed around the phone room and noticed that several of my co-workers had collapsed on their desks, shoulders heaving with laughter. Astrid tittered, then cupped her fingers around her mouth so she wouldn’t completely lose it.

Buddy burst into noisy tears. “Oh no,” he gasped. “That’s terrible. I loved her so much. I was going to marry her next week. How could she do something like this?”

I needed to say something to ease the guy’s pain. Reaching onto Mary’s desk, I jostled a disheveled stack of porn magazines. “Wait, I just found a note.” I rustled the pages again. “It says, “To Buddy, from Mary. Hang on, let me open it.”

Buddy emitted another sob, then fell silent. “Dear Buddy,” I continued. “I am so sorry, but I cannot be with you, or with anyone. I will always love you and treasure our conversations. With my deepest love, Mary.”

The crescendo of Buddy’s sobs increased. He cried hard for a couple of minutes, stopping occasionally to catch his breath. Finally, he said, “It’s okay. I don’t know why she did this, but I still love her.”

“We don’t know either,” I intoned. “At least she left a note.”

Buddy sniffled. “Well, thanks for your help. Let me know if you hear from her. Please.”

“I certainly will. If you don’t mind, I have to go now. I’m sorry, Buddy.” I pulled the receiver from my ear and prepared to return it to its cradle.

“Wait!” Buddy cried. “I have one more question.”

I was willing to do anything to offer succor to the pathetic, deluded man. “Sure, Buddy. Go ahead.”

“What’s YOUR name?”

My job couldn’t possibly last much longer. A few weeks later, I called my boss a pimp. He told me to get the fuck out of the building, or he’d call the cops and have me arrested. Astrid grabbed her purse and quit out of solidarity. “Mike’s got some really bad karma coming to him,” she said as we fled down the long flight of stairs towards the street.

“The sooner the better,” I agreed.

Paul and I sputtered along for two years, but his drunken escapades became increasingly violent. The two of us split up on a frigid November night, and I ran barefoot to the local YMCA. Eventually, he suffered a complete breakdown and went to live with his fundamentalist Christian parents in Wisconsin.

Mike sold his business and became a fervent anti-porn crusader. I ran into him four years later on Michigan Avenue. He spotted me from a block away and dashed in my direction. I’d scored a short-term job as a horse-drawn carriage driver. As I stood on the sidewalk, shivering in my cheap overcoat and top hat, he threw his arms around me and said, “Thank you for being honest.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I asked, puzzled.

“You were the one person brave enough to call that place what it was. A porn house. I hated hearing you say that, but you were right. It was a filthy, horrible, disgusting business, and I’m glad to be rid of it. Thank you.”

Several years later, Mike vanished from the face of the earth. He disappeared without even leaving an electronic paper trail. Only the building on Howard Street remains, with its long stairway leading up to the office where Phone Sluts once labored over rotary phones.

Of course, the phones and the sluts aren’t there anymore. Most porn is online. People meet on Tinder and Grindr, or they watch flickering, naked images on pockmarked computer screens. So much has been lost to convenience. The porn of the 70s possessed a certain organic innocence that can never be regained.

Maybe I’ve just gotten old and moved backwards into feeble romanticism. I hope Mary divorced her shithead husband. I hope Buddy eventually found the love he wanted so much. That’s the least any of us deserve. We’re either searching for sex and calling it love or searching for love and calling it sex. In that respect, nothing has changed at all.

Michael D. Amitin

Viva Las Vegas

John Charles Frémont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890), was an American military officer, explorer, the first candidate of the Republican Party for the office of President of the United States, and the first candidate to run on a platform in opposition to slavery. During the 1840s, that era’s penny press accorded Frémont the sobriquet “The Great Pathfinder.”

It was June of 1843, Frémont’s second topographical expedition mapped the Oregon Trail, traveled to Fort Vancouver, then turned south through Oregon and Western Nevada. By January 1844, the expedition was comprised of twenty-seven men, including Kit Carson and Thomas “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick, sixty-seven horses and mules, and a bronze mountain howitzer.

Low on provisions, Frémont decided to cross the 10,000 ft. Sierra Nevadas to Sutter’s Fort in California. It was midwinter, and the mountains were covered in deep snow. The Washoe Indians he met told him that he’d never be able to cross.

Fremont’s expedition eventually lead him southeast where on May 13, 1844, he set up camp in Las Vegas Springs, a destination that would later come to bear a landmark Hotel bearing his name.

Built in the Vegas building boom of the 1950’s, the Fremont Hotel and Casino in Downtown Vegas opened on May 18, 1956 as the tallest building in the state of Nevada. Fremont Street became the main thoroughfare through the heart of casino-lined Glitter Gulch.

Today, the Fremont remains one of the stalwarts of old Vegas… and the stuff of great legend – the house that gave rise to the likes of the inimitable Newton Brothers, Wayne and Jimmy, and gave a start to many others.

Local lore says this about the venerated establishment: “The Fremont will probably be around until Vegas gets sucked into the pits of hell.” Danka Schoen, and we love you Jersey.

A cool autumn night in 1983, the Fremont in the spirit of exploration befitting its namesake, played host to another groundbreaking act – an expedition of another variety – one likely to have made the wheels of the Great Pathfinder’s covered wagon spin into dead man’s ditch.

The American Urological Association was holding its annual meeting at the Fremont. Word of a major breakthrough in urological research had those gathered in attendance chattering. Dr. Giles Brindley, a British physiologist was slated to present his ‘significant’ findings to the association.

Brindley, a pencil-necked graying man of fifty-seven, was an old hand at such meetings, having presented numerous papers at scientific conferences. He had a reputation in Europe for original research, especially in bioengineering. In 1964, for example, Brindley had devised the world’s first visual prosthesis and had implanted three pairs of electronic eyes in humans before terminating the work when the costs did not justify the results. Once, to explore the effects of centrifugal force on a rabbit’s ability to land on its feet, Brindley dropped a rabbit from the roof to the floor of a car while making a sharp turn while the car was going eighty miles an hour.

After incurring the wrath of hell from PETA, Brindley sequestered himself for years taking solace with a “Logical Bassoon” he’d invented, an electronically controlled version of the bassoon.

Anchors Away

Prior to the 1980’s, it was thought that erectile dysfunction – the inability to achieve an erection – was primarily mental. That concept was about to be doused with saltpeter at the conference in Vegas.

A buzz filled the small theater inside the Fremont, as a veritable who’s-who of urologists took their seats and the lights dimmed. A short squatty, balding man with bushy sideburns pluming out beneath a circus purple velvet hat made his way on stage. With the voice of a eunuch, he chimed through the theater: “Ladies and gentlemen, distinguised colleagues, guests.”

Backstage, the bespectacled Brindley hurriedly injected his penis with the drug phentolamine. Following the injection, Dr. Brindley gracefully appeared on stage and quickly dropped his pants to display one of the first drug-induced erections to the incredulous audience. It was a whopper.

The audience – consisting primarily of physicians who spent much of their professional lives performing examinations of the sort that tend to jade ones response to male genitalia, – audibly gasped.

“[Brindley] dropped his pants before the audience…

…a very respectable erection”

Prof. Alvaro Morales, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.

“I had been wondering why Brindley came out wearing sweatpants,” said Dr. Arnold Melman, Chief of Urology at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Suddenly I knew. It was a big penis, and he just walked around the stage, showing it off.”

Brindley, a former athlete, proving he was not using a silicone prosthesis, descended from the stage to the audience, inviting them to inspect his erect penis.

Brindley waddled from the stage down the stairs making his way through a stunned audience, his trousers at his knees, and his experiment at eye level, to “confirm the degree of tumescence.” Four or five of the women in attendance screamed, Professor Brindley pulled up his pants, and, returning to the stage, concluded his lecture.

Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a Boston University urologist who had a cherry seat for Dr. Brindley’s presentation described it as such, “He walked down the aisle and let us touch it. People couldn’t believe it wasn’t an implant.”

Ms. Irene Schlepsky of Buffalo, NY who apparently had a previous intimate encounter with Brindley, later said this: “It was the frankenstein of genetalia… inanimate tissue returning to life. Ms. Schlepsky a college philosophy profesor who had come to Vegas on a Knights of Columbus junket, accepted the invite from Brindley once it was apparent her junket would coincide with his revelatory unveiling. Unfortunately, the spry brunette looker never recovered from the events of that night. After prolonged therapy she gave up her calling as an educator and entered the Cloister of Passionist Nuns at Whitesville, Kentucky.

Another of the women in attendance, Mrs. Lovie Pumps, reported the epiphany to her husband – venture capitalist Hector Pumps, a gentle man of sixty-five who by now had long since said kaddish for his shriveling schemekle – could hardly believe it. “A miracle, Lovey!” He could hardly count the hours until a recesitation of the finest order might restore he and his wife’s mordant bump and grind.

Later when Brindley’s revelation was put in a capsule dubbed the “little blue pill” and unleashed to the world at large, Hector Pumps used his international connections to market the drug in such disparate loin-aching places as Instanbul and Moscow. A statue was erected in Pump’s honor in the hub of Istanbul’s red light district.

The Lobby

As the meeting was breaking up, Urologists filed across the lobby in a stony silent wake, before taking tables at “Pat’s On Your Back Lounge.” Jiggling their martini tumblers and listening to graying rockers who look ridiclous, the group was left to ponder what they’d just witnessed.

The reason why an injection of phentolamine gave Brindley an erection was especially interesting in 1983 because no one had really thought about it before.

Howard Hughes not withstanding (who decades earlier had sported a hearty and frequent habit of shooting narcotics into his wealthy johnson), the mid-1980’s ushered in a new era where it became commonplace for men with erectile dysfunction to inject smooth-muscle-relaxing drugs as a treatment for the problem. Phentolamine was soon at the fingertips of untold scores of measly lovers, as within a decade, it morphed into the “little blue pill” we’ve come to know as Viagra.

Timeline 1983

# Cabbage Patch Dolls hit the market.

# “Just Say No” is the new tool to combat growing drug use in the US.

# Camcorders are introduced.

(Everything in life is timing)

Popular Music of 1983

1. “Down Under” Men at Work

2. “Baby, Come to Me” Patti Austin & James Ingram

3. “Come on Eileen” Dexys Midnight Runners

4. “Beat It” Michael Jackson

5. “Let’s Dance” David Bowie

Wayne, Jimmy… eat your heart out. You may have had countless adoring sea hags trekking from Atlantic City to Vegas, but you never caused a commotion like this.

As the bartenders hollered last call, the martini tumblers dry as a desert well, the urologists exited the Fremont, passing hookers, pimps, winos, crack hawkers, tank top rockers scavenging the boulevard. The great pathfinder, John C. Fremont looked down from his luxury suite in the great reward flashing a hearty Vegas smile.

In the wake of the presentation, the Fremont became a destination for film directors. Scenes from the movie Swingers were filmed inside the hotel. The casino also appeared in Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.

The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest pieces of American journalism ever written. Originally published in Scanlan’s Monthly, June 1970, HST proudly presents “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”

***

I got off the plane around midnight and no one spoke as I crossed the dark runway to the terminal. The air was thick and hot, like wandering into a steam bath. Inside, people hugged each other and shook hands…big grins and a whoop here and there: “By God! You old bastard! Good to see you, boy! Damn good…and I mean it!”

In the air-conditioned lounge I met a man from Houston who said his name was something or other–“but just call me Jimbo”–and he was here to get it on. “I’m ready for anything, by God! Anything at all. Yeah, what are you drinkin?” I ordered a Margarita with ice, but he wouldn’t hear of it: “Naw, naw…what the hell kind of drink is that for Kentucky Derby time? What’s wrong with you, boy?” He grinned and winked at the bartender. “Goddam, we gotta educate this boy. Get him some good whiskey…”

I shrugged. “Okay, a double Old Fitz on ice.” Jimbo nodded his approval.

“Look.” He tapped me on the arm to make sure I was listening. “I know this Derby crowd, I come here every year, and let me tell you one thing I’ve learned–this is no town to be giving people the impression you’re some kind of faggot. Not in public, anyway. Shit, they’ll roll you in a minute, knock you in the head and take every goddam cent you have.”

I thanked him and fitted a Marlboro into my cigarette holder. “Say,” he said, “you look like you might be in the horse business…am I right?”

“No,” I said. “I’m a photographer.”

“Oh yeah?” He eyed my ragged leather bag with new interest. “Is that what you got there–cameras? Who you work for?”

Playboy,” I said.

He laughed. “Well, goddam! What are you gonna take pictures of–nekkid horses? Haw! I guess you’ll be workin’ pretty hard when they run the Kentucky Oaks. That’s a race just for fillies.” He was laughing wildly. “Hell yes! And they’ll all be nekkid too!”

I shook my head and said nothing; just stared at him for a moment, trying to look grim. “There’s going to be trouble,” I said. “My assignment is to take pictures of the riot.”

“What riot?”

I hesitated, twirling the ice in my drink. “At the track. On Derby Day. The Black Panthers.” I stared at him again. “Don’t you read the newspapers?”

The grin on his face had collapsed. “What the hell are you talkin’ about?”

“Well…maybe I shouldn’t be telling you…” I shrugged. “But hell, everybody else seems to know. The cops and the National Guard have been getting ready for six weeks. They have 20,000 troops on alert at Fort Knox. They’ve warned us–all the press and photographers–to wear helmets and special vests like flak jackets. We were told to expect shooting…”

“No!” he shouted; his hands flew up and hovered momentarily between us, as if to ward off the words he was hearing. Then he whacked his fist on the bar. “Those sons of bitches! God Almighty! The Kentucky Derby!” He kept shaking his head. “No! Jesus! That’s almost too bad to believe!” Now he seemed to be sagging on the stool, and when he looked up his eyes were misty. “Why? Why here? Don’t they respect anything?

I shrugged again. “It’s not just the Panthers. The FBI says busloads of white crazies are coming in from all over the country–to mix with the crowd and attack all at once, from every direction. They’ll be dressed like everybody else. You know–coats and ties and all that. But when the trouble starts…well, that’s why the cops are so worried.”

He sat for a moment, looking hurt and confused and not quite able to digest all this terrible news. Then he cried out: “Oh…Jesus! What in the name of God is happening in this country? Where can you get away from it?”

“Not here,” I said, picking up my bag. “Thanks for the drink…and good luck.”

He grabbed my arm, urging me to have another, but I said I was overdue at the Press Club and hustled off to get my act together for the awful spectacle. At the airport newsstand I picked up a Courier-Journal and scanned the front page headlines: “Nixon Sends GI’s into Cambodia to Hit Reds”… “B-52’s Raid, then 20,000 GI’s Advance 20 Miles”… “4,000 U.S. Troops Deployed Near Yale as Tension Grows Over Panther Protest.” At the bottom of the page was a photo of Diane Crump, soon to become the first woman jockey ever to ride in the Kentucky Derby. The photographer had snapped her “stopping in the barn area to fondle her mount, Fathom.” The rest of the paper was spotted with ugly war news and stories of “student unrest.” There was no mention of any trouble brewing at a university in Ohio called Kent State.

I went to the Hertz desk to pick up my car, but the moon-faced young swinger in charge said they didn’t have any. “You can’t rent one anywhere,” he assured me. “Our Derby reservations have been booked for six weeks.” I explained that my agent had confirmed a white Chrysler convertible for me that very afternoon but he shook his head. “Maybe we’ll have a cancellation. Where are you staying?”

I shrugged. “Where’s the Texas crowd staying? I want to be with my people.”

He sighed. “My friend, you’re in trouble. This town is flat full. Always is, for the Derby.”

I leaned closer to him, half-whispering: “Look, I’m from Playboy. How would you like a job?”

He backed off quickly. “What? Come on, now. What kind of a job?”

“Never mind,” I said. “You just blew it.” I swept my bag off the counter and went to find a cab. The bag is a valuable prop in this kind of work; mine has a lot of baggage tags on it–SF, LA, NY, Lima, Rome, Bangkok, that sort of thing–and the most prominent tag of all is a very official, plastic-coated thing that says “Photog. Playboy Mag.” I bought it from a pimp in Vail, Colorado, and he told me how to use it. “Never mention Playboy until you’re sure they’ve seen this thing first,” he said. “Then, when you see them notice it, that’s the time to strike. They’ll go belly up every time. This thing is magic, I tell you. Pure magic.”

Well…maybe so. I’d used it on the poor geek in the bar, and now humming along in a Yellow Cab toward town, I felt a little guilty about jangling the poor bugger’s brains with that evil fantasy. But what the hell? Anybody who wanders around the world saying, “Hell yes, I’m from Texas,” deserves whatever happens to him. And he had, after all, come here once again to make a nineteenth-century ass of himself in the midst of some jaded, atavistic freakout with nothing to recommend it except a very saleable “tradition.” Early in our chat, Jimbo had told me that he hadn’t missed a Derby since 1954. “The little lady won’t come anymore,” he said. “She grits her teeth and turns me loose for this one. And when I say ‘loose’ I do mean loose! I toss ten-dollar bills around like they were goin’ out of style! Horses, whiskey, women…shit, there’s women in this town that’ll do anything for money.”

Why not? Money is a good thing to have in these twisted times. Even Richard Nixon is hungry for it. Only a few days before the Derby he said, “If I had any money I’d invest it in the stock market.” And the market, meanwhile, continued its grim slide.

***

The next day was heavy. With only thirty hours until post time I had no press credentials and–according to the sports editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal–no hope at all of getting any. Worse, I needed two sets: one for myself and another for Ralph Steadman, the English illustrator who was coming from London to do some Derby drawings. All I knew about him was that this was his first visit to the United States. And the more I pondered the fact, the more it gave me fear. How would he bear up under the heinous culture shock of being lifted out of London and plunged into the drunken mob scene at the Kentucky Derby? There was no way of knowing. Hopefully, he would arrive at least a day or so ahead, and give himself time to get acclimated. Maybe a few hours of peaceful sightseeing in the Bluegrass country around Lexington. My plan was to pick him up at the airport in the huge Pontiac Ballbuster I’d rented from a used-car salesman named Colonel Quick, then whisk him off to some peaceful setting that might remind him of England.

Colonel Quick had solved the car problem, and money (four times the normal rate) had bought two rooms in a scumbox on the outskirts of town. The only other kink was the task of convincing the moguls at Churchill Downs that Scanlan’swas such a prestigious sporting journal that common sense compelled them to give us two sets of the best press tickets. This was not easily done. My first call to the publicity office resulted in total failure. The press handler was shocked at the idea that anyone would be stupid enough to apply for press credentials two days before the Derby. “Hell, you can’t be serious,” he said. “The deadline was two months ago. The press box is full; there’s no more room…and what the hell is Scanlan’s Monthly anyway?”

I uttered a painful groan. “Didn’t the London office call you? They’re flying an artist over to do the paintings. Steadman. He’s Irish. I think. Very famous over there. Yes. I just got in from the Coast. The San Francisco office told me we were all set.”

He seemed interested, and even sympathetic, but there was nothing he could do. I flattered him with more gibberish, and finally he offered a compromise: he could get us two passes to the clubhouse grounds but the clubhouse itself and especially the press box were out of the question.

“That sounds a little weird,” I said. “It’s unacceptable. We must have access to everything. All of it. The spectacle, the people, the pageantry and certainly the race. You don’t think we came all this way to watch the damn thing on television, do you? One way or another we’ll get inside. Maybe we’ll have to bribe a guard–or even Mace somebody.” (I had picked up a spray can of Mace in a downtown drugstore for $5.98 and suddenly, in the midst of that phone talk, I was struck by the hideous possibilities of using it out at the track. Macing ushers at the narrow gates to the clubhouse inner sanctum, then slipping quickly inside, firing a huge load of Mace into the governor’s box, just as the race starts. Or Macing helpless drunks in the clubhouse restroom, for their own good…)

By noon on Friday I was still without press credentials and still unable to locate Steadman. For all I knew he’d changed his mind and gone back to London. Finally, after giving up on Steadman and trying unsuccessfully to reach my man in the press office, I decided my only
hope for credentials was to go out to the track and confront the man in person, with no warning–demanding only one pass now, instead of two, and talking very fast with a strange lilt in my voice, like a man trying hard to control some inner frenzy. On the way out, I stopped at the motel desk to cash a check. Then, as a useless afterthought, I asked if by any wild chance a Mr. Steadman had checked in.

The lady on the desk was about fifty years old and very peculiar- looking; when I mentioned Steadman’s name she nodded, without looking up from whatever she was writing, and said in a low voice, “You bet he did.” Then she favored me with a big smile. “Yes, indeed. Mr. Steadman just left for the racetrack. Is he a friend of yours?”

I shook my head. “I’m supposed to be working with him, but I don’t even know what he looks like. Now, goddammit, I’ll have to find him in the mob at the track.”

She chuckled. “You won’t have any trouble finding him. You could pick that man out of any crowd.”

“Why?” I asked. “What’s wrong with him? What does he look like?”

“Well…” she said, still grinning, “he’s the funniest looking thing I’ve seen in a long time. He has this…ah…this growth all over his face. As a matter of fact it’s all over his head.” She nodded. “You’ll know him when you see him; don’t worry about that.”

Creeping Jesus, I thought. That screws the press credentials. I had a vision of some nerve-rattling geek all covered with matted hair and string-warts showing up in the press office and demanding Scanlan’s press packet. Well…what the hell? We could always load up on acid and spend the day roaming around the clubhouse grounds with bit sketch pads, laughing hysterically at the natives and swilling mint juleps so the cops wouldn’t think we’re abnormal. Perhaps even make the act pay; set up an easel with a big sign saying, “Let a Foreign Artist Paint Your Portrait, $10 Each. Do It NOW!”

***

I took the expressway out to the track, driving very fast and jumping the monster car back and forth between lanes, driving with a beer in one hand and my mind so muddled that I almost crushed a Volkswagen full of nuns when I swerved to catch the right exit. There was a slim chance, I thought, that I might be able to catch the ugly Britisher before he checked in.

But Steadman was already in the press box when I got there, a bearded young Englishman wearing a tweed coat and RAF sunglasses. There was nothing particularly odd about him. No facial veins or clumps of bristly warts. I told him about the motel woman’s description and he seemed puzzled. “Don’t let it bother you,” I said. “Just keep in mind for the next few days that we’re in Louisville, Kentucky. Not London. Not even New York. This is a weird place. You’re lucky that mental defective at the motel didn’t jerk a pistol out of the cash register and blow a big hole in you.” I laughed, but he looked worried.

“Just pretend you’re visiting a huge outdoor loony bin,” I said. “If the inmates get out of control we’ll soak them down with Mace.” I showed him the can of “Chemical Billy,” resisting the urge to fire it across the room at a rat-faced man typing diligently in the Associated Press section. We were standing at the bar, sipping the management’s Scotch and congratulating each other on our sudden, unexplained luck in picking up two sets of fine press credentials. The lady at the desk had been very friendly to him, he said. “I just told her my name and she gave me the whole works.”

By midafternoon we had everything under control. We had seats looking down on the finish line, color TV and a free bar in the press room, and a selection of passes that would take us anywhere from the clubhouse roof to the jockey room. The only thing we lacked was unlimited access to the clubhouse inner sanctum in sections “F&G”…and I felt we needed that, to see the whiskey gentry in action. The governor, a swinish neo-Nazi hack named Louis Nunn, would be in “G,” along with Barry Goldwater and Colonel Sanders. I felt we’d be legal in a box in “G” where we could rest and sip juleps, soak up a bit of atmosphere and the Derby’s special vibrations.

The bars and dining rooms are also in “F&G,” and the clubhouse bars on Derby Day are a very special kind of scene. Along with the politicians, society belles and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything at all within five hundred miles of Louisville will show up there to get strutting drunk and slap a lot of backs and generally make himself obvious. The Paddock bar is probably the best place in the track to sit and watch faces. Nobody minds being stared at; that’s what they’re in there for. Some people spend most of their time in the Paddock; they can hunker down at one of the many wooden tables, lean back in a comfortable chair and watch the ever-changing odds flash up and down on the big tote board outside the window. Black waiters in white serving jackets move through the crowd with trays of drinks, while the experts ponder their racing forms and the hunch bettors pick lucky numbers or scan the lineup for right-sounding names. There is a constant flow of traffic to and from the pari-mutuel windows outside in the wooden corridors. Then, as post time nears, the crowd thins out as people go back to their boxes.

Clearly, we were going to have to figure out some way to spend more time in the clubhouse tomorrow. But the “walkaround” press passes to F&G were only good for thirty minutes at a time, presumably to allow the newspaper types to rush in and out for photos or quick interviews, but to prevent drifters like Steadman and me from spending all day in

the clubhouse, harassing the gentry and rifling the odd handbag or two while cruising around the boxes. Or Macing the governor. The time limit was no problem on Friday, but on Derby Day the walkaround passes would be in heavy demand. And since it took about ten minutes to get from the press box to the Paddock, and ten more minutes to get back, that didn’t leave much time for serious people-watching. And unlike most of the others in the press box, we didn’t give a hoot in hell what was happening on the track. We had come there to watch the real beasts perform.

***

Later Friday afternoon, we went out on the balcony of the press box and I tried to describe the difference between what we were seeing today and what would be happening tomorrow. This was the first time I’d been to a Derby in ten years, but before that, when I lived in Louisville, I used to go every year. Now, looking down from the press box, I pointed to the huge grassy meadow enclosed by the track. “That whole thing,” I said, “will be jammed with people; fifty thousand or so, and most of them staggering drunk. It’s a fantastic scene–thousands of people fainting, crying, copulating, trampling each other and fighting with broken whiskey bottles. We’ll have to spend some time out there, but it’s hard to move around, too many bodies.”

“Is it safe out there?” Will we ever come back?”

“Sure,” I said. “We’ll just have to be careful not to step on anybody’s stomach and start a fight.” I shrugged. “Hell, this clubhouse scene right below us will be almost as bad as the infield. Thousands of raving, stumbling drunks, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money. By midafternoon they’ll be guzzling mint juleps with both hands and vomitting on each other between races. The whole place will be jammed with bodies, shoulder to shoulder. It’s hard to move around. The aisles will be slick with vomit; people falling down and grabbing at your legs to keep from being stomped. Drunks pissing on themselves in the betting lines. Dropping handfuls of money and fighting to stoop over and pick it up.”

He looked so nervous that I laughed. “I’m just kidding,” I said. “Don’t worry. At the first hint of trouble I’ll start pumping this ‘Chemical Billy’ into the crowd.”

He had done a few good sketches, but so far we hadn’t seen that special kind of face that I felt we would need for a lead drawing. It was a face I’d seen a thousand times at every Derby I’d ever been to. I saw it, in my head, as the mask of the whiskey gentry–a pretentious mix of booze, failed dreams and a terminal identity crisis; the inevitable result of too much inbreeding in a closed and ignorant culture. One of the key genetic rules in breeding dogs, horses or any other kind of thoroughbred is that close inbreeding tends to magnify the weak points in a bloodline as well as the strong points. In horse breeding, for instance, there is a definite risk in breeding two fast horses who are both a little crazy. The offspring will likely be very fast and also very crazy. So the trick in breeding thoroughbreds is to retain the good traits and filter out the bad. But the breeding of humans is not so wisely supervised, particularly in a narrow Southern society where the closest kind of inbreeding is not only stylish and acceptable, but far more convenient–to the parents–than setting their offspring free to find their own mates, for their own reasons and in their own ways. (“Goddam, did you hear about Smitty’s daughter? She went crazy in Boston last week and married a nigger!”)

So the face I was trying to find in Churchill Downs that weekend was a symbol, in my own mind, of the whole doomed atavistic culture that makes the Kentucky Derby what it is.

On our way back to the motel after Friday’s races I warned Steadman about some of the other problems we’d have to cope with. Neither of us had brought any strange illegal drugs, so we would have to get by on booze. “You should keep in mind,” I said, “that almost everybody you talk to from now on will be drunk. People who seem very pleasant at first might suddenly swing at you for no reason at all.” He nodded, staring straight ahead. He seemed to be getting a little numb and I tried to cheer him up by inviting to dinner that night, with my brother.

Back at the motel we talked for awhile about America, the South, England–just relaxing a bit before dinner. There was no way either of us could have known, at the time, that it would be the last normal conversation we would have. From that point on, the weekend became a vicious, drunken nightmare. We both went completely to pieces. The main problem was my prior attachment to Louisville, which naturally led to meetings with old friends, relatives, etc., many of whom were in the process of falling apart, going mad, plotting divorces, cracking up under the strain of terrible debts or recovering from bad accidents. Right in the middle of the whole frenzied Derby action, a member of my own family had to be institutionalized. This added a certain amount of strain to the situation, and since poor Steadman had no choice but to take whatever came his way, he was subjected to shock after shock.

Another problem was his habit of sketching people he met in the various social situations I dragged him into–then giving them the sketches. The results were always unfortunate. I warned him several times about letting the subjects see his foul renderings, but for some perverse reason he kept doing it. Consequently, he was regarded with fear and loathing by nearly everyone who’d seen or even heard about his work. He couldn’t understand it. “It’s sort of a joke,” he kept saying. “Why, in England it’s quite normal. People don’t take offense. They understand that I’m just putting them on a bit.”

“Fuck England,” I said. “This is Middle America. These people regard what you’re doing to them as a brutal, bilious insult. Look what happened last night. I thought my brother was going to tear your head off.”

Steadman shook his head sadly. “But I liked him. He struck me as a very decent, straightforward sort.”

“Look, Ralph,” I said. “Let’s not kid ourselves. That was a very horrible drawing you gave him. It was the face of a monster. It got on his nerves very badly.” I shrugged. “Why in hell do you think we left the restaurant so fast?”

“I thought it was because of the Mace,” he said.

“What Mace?”

He grinned. “When you shot it at the headwaiter, don’t you remember?”

“Hell, that was nothing,” I said. “I missed him…and we were leaving, anyway.”

“But it got all over us,” he said. “The room was full of that damn gas. Your brother was sneezing was and his wife was crying. My eyes hurt for two hours. I couldn’t see to draw when we got back to the motel.”

“That’s right,” I said. “The stuff got on her leg, didn’t it?”

“She was angry,” he said.

“Yeah…well, okay…Let’s just figure we fucked up about equally on that one,” I said. “But from now on let’s try to be careful when we’re around people I know. You won’t sketch them and I won’t Mace them. We’ll just try to relax and get drunk.”

“Right,” he said. “We’ll go native.”

***

It was Saturday morning, the day of the Big Race, and we were having breakfast in a plastic hamburger palace called the Fish-Meat Village. Our rooms were just across the road in the Brown Suburban Hotel. They had a dining room, but the food was so bad that we couldn’t handle it anymore. The waitresses seemed to be suffering from shin splints; they moved around very slowly, moaning and cursing the “darkies” in the kitchen.

Steadman liked the Fish-Meat place because it had fish and chips. I preferred the “French toast,” which was really pancake batter, fried to the proper thickness and then chopped out with a sort of cookie cutter to resemble pieces of toast.

Beyond drink and lack of sleep, our only real problem at that point was the question of access to the clubhouse. Finally, we decided to go ahead and steal two passes, if necessary, rather than miss that part of the action. This was the last coherent decision we were able to make for the next forty-eight hours. From that point on–almost from the very moment we started out to the track–we lost all control of events and spent the rest of the weekend churning around in a sea of drunken horrors. My notes and recollections from Derby Day are somewhat scrambled.

But now, looking at the big red notebook I carried all through that scene, I see more or less what happened. The book itself is somewhat mangled and bent; some of the pages are torn, others are shriveled and stained by what appears to be whiskey, but taken as a whole, with sporadic memory flashes, the notes seem to tell the story. To wit:

***

Rain all nite until dawn. No sleep. Christ, here we go, a nightmare of mud and madness…But no. By noon the sun burns through–perfect day, not even humid.

Steadman is now worried about fire. Somebody told him about the clubhouse catching on fire two years ago. Could it happen again? Horrible. Trapped in the press box. Holocaust. A hundred thousand people fighting to get out. Drunks screaming in the flames and the mud, crazed horses running wild. Blind in the smoke. Grandstand collapsing into the flames with us on the roof. Poor Ralph is about to crack. Drinking heavily, into the Haig & Haig.

Out to the track in a cab, avoid that terrible parking in people’s front yards, $25 each, toothless old men on the street with big signs: PARK HERE, flagging cars in the yard. “That’s fine, boy, never mind the tulips.” Wild hair on his head, straight up like a clump of reeds.

Sidewalks full of people all moving in the same direction, towards Churchill Downs. Kids hauling coolers and blankets, teenyboppers in tight pink shorts, many blacks…black dudes in white felt hats with leopard-skin bands, cops waving traffic along.

The mob was thick for many blocks around the track; very slow going in the crowd, very hot. On the way to the press box elevator, just inside

the clubhouse, we came on a row of soldiers all carrying long white riot sticks. About two platoons, with helmets. A man walking next to us said they were waiting for the governor and his party. Steadman eyed them nervously. “Why do they have those clubs?”

“Black Panthers,” I said. Then I remembered good old “Jimbo” at the airport and I wondered what he was thinking right now. Probably very nervous; the place was teeming with cops and soldiers. We pressed on through the crowd, through many gates, past the paddock where the jockeys bring the horses out and parade around for a while before each
race so the bettors can get a good look. Five million dollars will be bet today. Many winners, more losers. What the hell. The press gate was jammed up with people trying to get in, shouting at the guards, waving strange press badges: Chicago Sporting Times, Pittsburgh Police Athletic League…they were all turned away. “Move on, fella, make way for the working press.” We shoved through the crowd and into the elevator, then quickly up to the free bar. Why not? Get it on. Very hot today, not feeling well, must be this rotten climate. The press box was cool and airy, plenty of room to walk around and balcony seats for watching the race or looking down at the crowd. We got a betting sheet and went outside.

***

Pink faces with a stylish Southern sag, old Ivy styles, seersucker coats and buttondown collars. “Mayblossom Senility” (Steadman’s phrase)…burnt out early or maybe just not much to burn in the first place. Not much energy in the faces, not much curiosity. Suffering in silence, nowhere to go after thirty in this life, just hang on and humor the children. Let the young enjoy themselves while they can. Why not?

The grim reaper comes early in this league…banshees on the lawn at night, screaming out there beside that little iron nigger in jockey clothes. Maybe he’s the one who’s screaming. Bad DT’s and too many snarls at the bridge club. Going down with the stock market. Oh Jesus, the kid has wrecked the new car, wrapped it around the big stone pillar at the bottom of the driveway. Broken leg? Twisted eye? Send him off to Yale, they can cure anything up there.

Yale? Did you see today’s paper? New Haven is under siege. Yale is swarming with Black Panthers…I tell you, Colonel, the world has gone mad, stone mad. Why, they tell me a goddam woman jockey might ride in the Derby today.

I left Steadman sketching in the Paddock bar and went off to place our bets on the fourth race. When I came back he was staring intently at a group of young men around a table not far away. “Jesus, look at the corruption in that face!” he whispered. “Look at the madness, the fear, the greed!” I looked, then quickly turned my back on the table he was sketching. The face he’d picked out to draw was the face of an old friend of mine, a prep school football star in the good old days with a sleek red Chevy convertible and a very quick hand, it was said, with the snaps of a 32 B brassiere. They called him “Cat Man.”

But now, a dozen years later, I wouldn’t have recognized him anywhere but here, where I should have expected to find him, in the Paddock bar on Derby Day…fat slanted eyes and a pimp’s smile, blue silk suit and his friends looking like crooked bank tellers on a binge…

Steadman wanted to see some Kentucky Colonels, but he wasn’t sure what they looked like. I told him to go back to the clubhouse men’s rooms and look for men in white linen suits vomitting in the urinals. “They’ll usually have large brown whiskey stains on the front of their suits,” I said. “But watch the shoes, that’s the tip-off. Most of them manage to avoid vomitting on their own clothes, but they never miss their shoes.”

In a box not far from ours was Colonel Anna Friedman Goldman, Chairman and Keeper of the Great Seal of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. Not all the 76 million or so Kentucky Colonels could make it to the Derby this year, but many had kept the faith, and several days prior to the Derby they gathered for their annual dinner at the Seelbach Hotel.

The Derby, the actual race, was scheduled for late afternoon, and as the magic hour approached I suggested to Steadman that we should probably spend some time in the infield, that boiling sea of people across the track from the clubhouse. He seemed a little nervous about it, but since none of the awful things I’d warned him about had happened so far–no race riots, firestorms or savage drunken attacks–he shrugged and said, “Right, let’s do it.”

To get there we had to pass through many gates, each one a step down in status, then through a tunnel under the track. Emerging from the tunnel was such a culture shock that it took us a while to adjust. “God almighty!” Steadman muttered. “This is a…Jesus!” He plunged ahead with his tiny camera, stepping over bodies, and I followed, trying to take notes.

***

Total chaos, no way to see the race, not even the track…nobody cares. Big lines at the outdoor betting windows, then stand back to watch winning numbers flash on the big board, like a giant bingo game.

Old blacks arguing about bets; “Hold on there, I’ll handle this” (waving pint of whiskey, fistful of dollar bills); girl riding piggyback, T-shirt says, “Stolen from Fort Lauderdale Jail.” Thousands of teen-agers, group singing “Let the Sun Shine In,” ten soldiers guarding the American flag and a huge fat drunk wearing a blue football jersey (No. 80) reeling around with quart of beer in hand.

No booze sold out here, too dangerous…no bathrooms either. Muscle Beach…Woodstock…many cops with riot sticks, but no sign of a riot. Far across the track the clubhouse looks like a postcard from the Kentucky Derby.

***

We went back to the clubhouse to watch the big race. When the crowd stood to face the flag and sing “My Old Kentucky Home,” Steadman faced the crowd and sketched frantically. Somewhere up in the boxes a voice screeched, “Turn around, you hairy freak!” The race itself was only two minutes long, and even from our super-status seats and using 12-power glasses, there was no way to see what really happened to our horses. Holy Land, Ralph’s choice, stumbled and lost his jockey in the final turn. Mine, Silent Screen, had the lead coming into the stretch but faded to fifth at the finish. The winner was a 16-1 shot named Dust Commander.

Moments after the race was over, the crowd surged wildly for the exits, rushing for cabs and busses. The next day’s Courier told of violence in the parking lot; people were punched and trampled, pockets were picked, children lost, bottles hurled. But we missed all this, having retired to the press box for a bit of post-race drinking. By this time we were both half-crazy from too much whiskey, sun fatigue, culture shock, lack of sleep and general dissolution. We hung around the press box long enough to watch a mass interview with the winning owner, a dapper little man named Lehmann who said he had just flown into Louisville that morning from Nepal, where he’d “bagged a record tiger.” The sportswriters murmured their admiration and a waiter filled Lehmann’s glass with Chivas Regal. He had just won $127,000 with a horse that cost him $6,500 two years ago. His occupation, he said, was “retired contractor.” And then he added, with a big grin, “I just retired.”

The rest of the day blurs into madness. The rest of that night too. And all the next day and night. Such horrible things occurred that I can’t bring myself even to think about them now, much less put them down in print. I was lucky to get out at all. One of my clearest memories of that vicious time is Ralph being attacked by one of my old friends in the billiard room of the Pendennis Club in downtown Louisville on Saturday night. The man had ripped his own shirt open to the waist before deciding that Ralph was after his wife. No blows were struck, but the emotional effects were massive. Then, as a sort of final horror, Steadman put his fiendish pen to work and tried to patch things up by doing a little sketch of the girl he’d been accused of hustling. That finished us in the Pedennis.

***

Sometime around ten-thirty Monday morning I was awakened by a scratching sound at my door. I leaned out of bed and pulled the curtain back just far enough to see Steadman outside. “What the fuck do you want?” I shouted.

“What about having breakfast?” he said.

I lunged out of bed and tried to open the door, but it caught on the night-chain and banged shut again. I couldn’t cope with the chain! The thing wouldn’t come out of the track–so I ripped it out of the wall with a vicious jerk on the door. Ralph didn’t blink. “Bad luck,” he
muttered.

I could barely see him. My eyes were swollen almost shut and the sudden burst of sunlight through the door left me stunned and helpless like a sick mole. Steadman was mumbling about sickness and terrible heat; I fell back on the bed and tried to focus on him as he moved around the room in a very distracted way for a few moments, then suddenly darted over to the beer bucket and seized a Colt .45.

“Christ,” I said. “You’re getting out of control.”

He nodded and ripped the cap off, taking a long drink. “You know, this is really awful,” he said finally. “I must get out of this place…” he shook his head nervously. “The plane leaves at three-thirty, but I don’t know if I’ll make it.”

I barely heard him. My eyes had finally opened enough for me to foucs on the mirror across the room and I was stunned at the shock of recognition. For a confused instant I thought that Ralph had brought somebody with him–a model for that one special face we’d been looking for. There he was, by God–a puffy, drink-ravaged, disease-ridden caricature…like an awful cartoon version of an old snapshot in some once-proud mother’s family photo album. It was the face we’d been looking for–and it was, of course, my own. Horrible, horrible…

“Maybe I should sleep a while longer,” I said. “Why don’t you go on over to the Fish-Meat place and eat some of those rotten fish and chips? Then come back and get me around noon. I feel too near death to hit the streets at this hour.”

He shook his head. “No…no…I think I’ll go back upstairs and work on those drawings for a while.” He leaned down to fetch two more cans out of the beer bucket. “I tried to work earlier,” he said, “but my hands kept trembling…It’s teddible, teddible.”

“You’ve got to stop this drinking,” I said.

He nodded. “I know. This is no good, no good at all. But for some reason it makes me feel better…”

“Not for long,” I said. “You’ll probably collapse into some kind of hysterical DT’s tonight–probably just about the time you get off the plane at Kennedy. They’ll zip you up in a straightjacket and drag you down to The Tombs, then beat you on the kidneys with big sticks until you straighten out.”

He shrugged and wandered out, pulling the door shut behind him. I went back to bed for another hour or so, and later–after the daily grapefruit juice run to the Nite Owl Food Mart–we had our last meal at Fish-Meat Village: a fine lunch of dough and butcher’s offal, fried in heavy grease.

By this time Ralph wouldn’t order coffee; he kept asking for more water. “It’s the only thing they have that’s fit for human consumption,” he explained. Then, with an hour or so to kill before he had to catch the plane, we spread his drawings out on the table and pondered them for a while, wondering if he’d caught the proper spirit of the thing…but we couldn’t make up our minds. His hands were shaking so badly that he had trouble holding the paper, and my vision was so blurred that I could barely see what he’d drawn. “Shit,” I said. “We both look worse than anything you’ve drawn here.”

He smiled. “You know–I’ve been thinking about that,” he said. “We came down here to see this teddible scene: people all pissed out of their minds and vomitting on themselves and all that…and now, you know what? It’s us…”

***

Huge Pontiac Ballbuster blowing through traffic on the expressway.

A radio news bulletin says the National Guard is massacring students at Kent State and Nixon is still bombing Cambodia. The journalist is driving, ignoring his passenger who is now nearly naked after taking off most of his clothing, which he holds out the window, trying to wind-wash the Mace out of it. His eyes are bright red and his face and chest are soaked with beer he’s been using to rinse the awful chemical off his flesh. The front of his woolen trousers is soaked with vomit; his body is racked with fits of coughing and wild chocking sobs. The journalist rams the big car through traffic and into a spot in front of the terminal, then he reaches over to open the door on the passenger’s side and shoves the Englishman out, snarling: “Bug off, you worthless faggot! You twisted pigfucker! [Crazed laughter.] If I weren’t sick I’d kick your ass all the way to Bowling Green–you scumsucking foreign geek. Mace is too good for you…We can do without your kind in Kentucky.”

***

kyderby1

Joseph Farley

Quarantine Blues

It was fifteen days into a statewide lockdown for the Covid 19 virus. I was at home doing nothing much, just like everyone else. That’s what a lockdown is. Save lives. Offer up your boredom and your job and your 401 K for the sake of the greater good. It was still too soon to see if it was working. One could only hope.

The phone rang. It was my sister Claire. We had been checking up on each other a couple times a week, partly out of concern, partly out of the need to have someone to talk with. We were both living in Pennsylvania at the time but on opposite sides of the state. I was in Philadelphia, a fairly large city in the southeastern corner of the state, while she was in Canton, a town of five thousands in the mountains of northwestern Pennsylvania. It was five hour drive one way to her house.

“How’s it going Claire.”

“Okay. Still alive. How about you Dan?”

“Same here. Healthy. A little dull. Only so much TV you can watch.”

“I’m okay with the TV, but I need cigarettes. All the stores around here have run out of tobacco. There have been no shipments for a week.”

“Might be a good time to quit. I hear the death rate is higher for people who smoke.”

Claire laughed, “That’s a reason to smoke even more.”

Gallows humor. We had both gotten that from our father. The darker the better.

“I could send you cigarettes, but I don’t know if you’re allowed to mail them.”

“I guess I’ll have to drive to West Virginia on a mercy run for me and my neighbors. That’s if the state police will let me cross the border. I heard this morning they’re stopping cars and having them fill out forms to prove they’re ‘essential’, otherwise your not supposed to be on the road.”

“What happens if you’re not essential?”

“That’s not clear. A fine? A scolding?”

“Maybe they make you move to Ohio.”

She laughed again, “No one would be that cruel. I guess I’ll just go crazy then. There’s no hard liquor in Canton either. Stores shut down. Just beer. Thank God for beer. Without booze this town will explode.”

“I have beer in the fridge leftover from Christmas. Haven’t opened a bottle since the lockdown began.”

“That’s because you’re a prude. Always have been. That’s why mom liked you.”

“She didn’t like me. She liked Henry.”

Henry is our baby brother.

“That’s true,” Claire said. “Everyone loves Henry. I owe him a call.”

“So do I.”

We said that, but both pretty much knew Henry might not get a call from either of us.

“The biggest problem here is cat litter,” Claire said. “I’ve run out and there’s none in town.”

“Do you still have five cats?”

“They keep me warm at night.”

My sister the cat lady.

“Is there anything else you can use for litter?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.”

I thought for a moment.

“Shredded newspapers? Back when I had a cat that’s what I used when I ran out of litter.”

“Canton doesn’t have a newspaper. Just a digital bulletin that comes out once a week, sent to your email account.”

“Maybe you could pick up cigarette butts from the sidewalk? Or ask friends for the contents of their ash trays? You might even find some leftover tobacco, enough to fill a pipe.”

“Right. Like I’m going to do that.”

“Any other ideas?”

“None.”

There was no easy solution. I tried to make light of it.

“I guess I could send you cat litter. But I could only fit so much in an envelope. It would take a lot of envelopes to fill a box.”

“I have three litter boxes for my cats. Send a few bags.”

“That’s a lot of postage. Is there anything you can get from a dollar store to fill the need?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Pancake mix? Oatmeal? Breakfast cereal. Have you ever tried dollar store breakfast cereal? Tastes awful. Might as well use it as cat litter.”

“You just need to add sugar and it tastes fine.”

“If you don’t mind the absence of food value.”

Silence.

“Some people eat what they can afford.”

Ouch. I thought. I’ll have to send her another check. It had been months since I sent her the last one. My baby brother Henry and I did that from time to time. Claire had a long run of bad luck exacerbated by an even longer run of bad choices. It wasn’t like Henry or me were doing great, but, in comparison with Claire we had nothing to complain about.

“Well, I’m out of ideas,” I said. “You’ll just have to think of something to use as cat litter.”

“I guess I could shred my old tax records,” Claire suggested.

“You’d need a lot of tax records. You use the EZ form, right?”

“Yeah, but I’ve got like ten years of records in the garage.”

“Uncle Sam to the rescue.”

“Maybe that will cover this week. Next week I’ll have to think of something else.”

I thought for a moment.

“What happened to your romance novel collection?”

“It was no collection. Just a few books. I gave them away.”

“What for?”

“A friend needed something for her gerbil cage.”

“Okay. You’ll have to take it one week at a time.”

“I think we’re all doing that.”

“Amen, sister.”