Aug 29, 2018, 05:56AM

Silver Bells

And, more than that, he'd seen a goddess.

Silver bells.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

There's a man somewhere,

and he's screaming.


Yes, there's a man


and he's screaming.


He's cast in the wilderness.

He's straggling the desert.

He's betrayed from the sky so blue.


And he's screaming.


He's screaming his bloody 

head off.


There's a late train a-coming, 

the last one. After that

the gate is closed.


When I first I saw you, 

you're eyes were so blue,

so very blue.


After Red Mazzo finished the poem, he tore it from his notebook, unrolled the Pinto window, and let the wind take it. He hoped it’d land in the hands of someone, some straggler in this Arizona desert Red and Jack were zooming across. If not, it was lost to Eternity, if indeed anything is ever, truly, lost to Eternity, Red mused as he tamped his pipe with Borkum Riff, rolled up the window, lit the pipe, and puffed contentedly. Jack clicked on the radio, but it was static. With that, Jack clicked it off for the umpteenth time. The only sound was tires on the road as the worn Ford rolled and rolled and rolled. Red was silently grateful that, for once, Jack hadn't been hitting the bottle. They avoided discussing the issue, but there it was, a week or so: nary a drink. The end result was a great sprawling tranquility.

A few days later, Jack and Red, without any sort of game plan, arrived at a truck stop south of Los Angeles, pulled into the first motel parking lot they encountered, Budget Inn, as the sun was setting, booked a room with two single beds.

The following morning Jack left for a pack of smokes.

But Jack never returned. Red waited and waited, but to no avail. After a few days, out of food, and too weak and timid to venture outdoors, weary to the marrow, Red closed the curtains tight, lay down with his woes on his little bed and closed his eyes. He slept fitfully for several hours, waking up occasionally to stare into the dark, then drifted in and out of sleep, losing all track of time. Days came and went.

Red thought back to Catholic high school days with Jack, about the time in December 1967 when a busload of them went to see a Broadway play, Woody Allen's Don't Drink the Water. Jack and Red sat together, just like every day on the school bus. Across the aisle, by the window, was their semi-pal, Sheldon Silverstein, the lone Jewish kid in the school. Next to him was, oddly, a college student, Scott. His kid brother originally held the ticket, but had the flu, so Scott filled in, and leaned across the aisle, struck up a conversation with Red and Jack while Sheldon eavesdropped.

In bug-eye sunglasses, his straight black hair longish, Scott was worldly. Somehow he turned the topic to drugs, and how he thought they should be legalized, all of them, even LSD and heroin.

He lit a Marlboro and said, "Man, I got into an argument with the old man yesterday. He says he wants to keep drugs illegal. So I took a shot, asked about Mom and her Benzedrine script. The geezer nearly blew a gasket! That's different! How so? Benzedrine is an amphetamine, one of many, along with Dexedrine, etc. College kids take uppers when cramming for an exam. Whose business is it if I take a white cross to study? Or for kicks? It's my life, I should be allowed to do whatever I want, man.

"As for heroin, it's no more than a derivative of opium, an opioid, one of many along with morphine and codeine. Your doc might prescribe those. Or just go to your friendly neighborhood drugstore and purchase Romilar.

"I told the old man that Henry Luce, the publisher of Time-Life, is an acidhead, him and his wife both drop LSD. Then I tossed in, Yeah, and they're Republicans, just like you and Senator Goldwater! Man, he flipped his wig! Hit the ceiling! I love buggin' that old bastard, heh, heh!"

Jack said, "Last summer, my cousin Sean was at a pot party, rich kids, Lake George. They passed around a marijuana cigarette. But Sean said it didn't do anything to anyone. He says beer is better."

Scott chuckled, "Ah, stupid punks! They were sold oregano. Next time they'll just go to the hobby shop, get a tube of Testor's! And let me tell you, weed is completely harmless, safe as mother's milk, unlike glue which is toxic. But glue's legal! Tell me that makes sense!"

Red was taken aback, left slightly breathless. He'd read about drugs and hippies and runaways in magazines at the barbershop, but in his world of Catholic school and strict parents, the entire counterculture might be happening on another planet. Sure, he bought each Bob Dylan record as it was released, starting with Another Side of Bob Dylan, then slowly working back as his limited allowance permitted. From there he'd picked up on Ginsberg and Kerouac and Corso. Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost fell by the wayside. The Top 40 troubadour and the beatniks spoke to Red in the lexicon of today, they were "relevant." However, it was all happening someplace faraway, a fantasy land, San Francisco, or where they were now headed, New York City. But Scott seemed a part of it all, was out there in the real world, a college man.

In a few hours the bus dropped them off in front of the Morosco Theatre, near Times Square. All the young men were instructed: One hour to explore the area, grab a quick bite, then back for the show, a genuine Broadway show!

"C'mon," Scott commanded, forging a path unknown, Jack and Red in tow, pear-shaped Sheldon bringing up the rear, huffing. They didn't make it back in an hour, they never made it to the show at all. Instead, Scott played pied piper leading them on a tour of Mayor Lindsay's Fun City, riding a subway from Times Square up to 125th St., Harlem. The ambled about, eventually stepping into a tiny record store. Jack walked to the register with BB King's Live at the Regal, mentioning to the cashier how much he loved the blues, especially BB, adding that The Rolling Stones were for teenyboppers who'd never heard real blues, hoping to impress that he wasn't a typical suburban kid, to which the man nodded absentmindedly, ringing the sale.

From there, a train south, next stop Greenwich Village. Red was flabbergasted, couldn’t believe he'd been to Harlem and was now rocketing to Greenwich Village. He imagined the psychedelic streets packed with flower children. Holy cow! What if he saw Ginsberg in the crowd, bestowing blessings? Or Dylan lurking in a doorway! What would he do? He'd have to play it cool. He knew they'd appreciate that. Maybe he'd toss 'em a knowing nod?

Jack held his new LP in both hands at arm's length and interrupted Red's reverie announcing, "BB! I cannot believe it! No store near us would carry this! Man, I've wanted this album for months!" He tore off the shrink wrap as if, somehow, this took him a few steps closer to dropping a needle in the opening track then and there.

Red thought back to when he met Jack, homeroom, first day of freshman year, 1965. Jack was reading a magazine article about the North Beach scene. There was a full-page photo of longhairs and weirdos in granny glasses, boat neck shirts, sandals, and the occasional wan chick with greasy tresses. Red leaned forward, over Jack's shoulder, and said, "I like those kind of people."

"Me too," replied Jack, tight-lipped. From there the friendship commenced, bolstered by their devotion to Bob Dylan. Dylan was their linchpin, but from there the road diverged as the years unspooled, Jack trotting toward electric blues, then to blues-rock and heavy-rock, while Red fell in with gentler folk-rock: The Byrds, The Rose Garden, Simon & Garfunkel, ultimately landing in country-rock and singer-songwriter and the dobro stylings of David Bromberg.

It seemed an eternity before the train screeched to a halt at the Christopher St. station, practically tossing them out of their seats. Red had no idea of where they were, but not to fear: Scott knew this city like a native, led them from train to train, street to avenue to street, hustling, an all-seeing, all-knowing, skinny Buddha, inscrutable behind shades, all the while Sheldon bringing up the rear, out of breath.

Emerging onto the streets, Red blinked. Greenwich Village, early afternoon, wasn't what he expected by a long shot, it was almost black and white: drab old buildings, empty streets, leaden sky. "Where is everyone?"

"Are you kidding? It's early! Village cats and chicks just went to bed a few hours ago, baby!"

After a few hours of wandering aimlessly, most of the few shops closed until mid-afternoon, they sat at a table in a greasy spoon, it offering hamburgers no different then what they'd get anywhere else. During lunch, Scott removed his sunglasses to rub his eyes, and Red was disconcerted to see how tiny and close and weak they were, pig-like, a watery shade of gray. Sheldon, quiet until now, piped up, whining, "We missed the show. I wanted to see the show. I like Woody Allen, this was my one chance to see the show, but instead you took us on a wild goose chase to see a bunch of boogie-woogies, and now, Greenwich Village. Why? There's nothing even open, the streets are empty. Why did you lead us astray? I wanted to see the show. We coulda gotten knifed up there in Boogieville. Now I'll never see the show." Scott ignored him, put the sunglasses back on, raised his nose, scanned the room, deeming this inquisition unworthy of notice.

Sheldon's racial slurs discomfited Red, he shifted in his seat, hands folded in his lap, and stared at the tabletop. Stereotyping wasn't what he wanted to hear from anyone, but especially not from a Jewish fella. Red held Jews in high esteem, associated them not only with Ginsberg and Dylan, but also Irwin Silber and his Sing Out magazine crowd, peace and civil rights activists, meek and balding ivory tower intellectuals. Alas, reactionary and crew-cut Sheldon was the only Jew that he and Jack knew, so Sheldon would have to do. But he was so much like everyone else at school, a stereotyper.

Red recalled the time he and Jack visited Sheldon one Saturday afternoon. The Silversteins lived in a small public housing project, houses split in two, vertically, one family on each side. While Mrs. Silverstein prepared lunch and Mr. Silverstein tinkered with their Valiant in the carport, Sheldon showed Red his butterfly collection and chemistry set. Jack was smirking in a corner, out of Sheldon's line of vision, pulling out Sheldon's LPs from a brass folding rack, flashing them to Red: Tom Jones, Jay & The Americans, The Lettermen, Matt Monro, 101 Strings, The Beach Nuts, one record more square than the next. Jack was attempting to make Red crack up, to embarrass him in front of Sheldon. But Red didn't crack up. Instead, he fumed, furious at the cowardly betrayal.

Leaving the diner, the sky darkening, strolling past a storefront apartment, Red glanced in. A large unframed abstract hung on a bare brick wall, and there, amongst a half-dozen hippies, one of whom hugged an electric guitar while sitting atop a Fender amp, the rest of them sprawled on a threadbare Oriental carpet, Red beheld the most beautiful thing he’d ever witness: a poem in black turtleneck and corduroy jumper, bare feet, love beads around svelte neck, auburn hair tumbling past shoulders. The poem looked up, shook her locks, seemed to stare into his soul, and tossed Red an easy smile. (Or was she just amused by silly tourist boys? Or had the black beauty kicked in?) It was all over in a wink, but Red would cherish that vision until the day he died, in his mind he would forever bow down to her. Over the years he composed many a poem to the Greenwich Village girl, to that instant. He entertained a notion that their paths would cross again, someday, somehow, and she'd fall in love with him, they'd laugh about that moment deep in an autumn eventide.

The four hopped on a train to Grand Central Terminal, hacked around there, nosed about a newsstand or two, visited the Audio Research demonstration rooms on the mezzanine. Jack approached a representative and asked if they'd play his LP, but was frostily rebuffed, much to his grinding chagrin. He hissed to Red, "Can you believe that fairy?" Not without sympathy, Red shrugged, "What can you do?" And there was the hardwired difference between the two: Jack, raging against the universe; Red sadly resigned to the forces of fate.

They missed the bus home. The bus waited two hours, two hours spent concerned, then worried, then agonized, but students and chaperones needed to return.

At Port Authority, Scott put Greyhound tickets on his Diners Club and said, "Don't worry about it." The high schoolers couldn't believe the dregs wandering about the immense terminal, but Scott was un-phased. With great dread, Red called home, collect, from a bank of pay phones. His mother was beside herself with anxiety. "Well, hurry home. And, by the by, your father is ready to pound you."

The four sat in a row of bucket seats and waited for the Albany bus. Sheldon stared at the floor and muttered, "We missed the show. Why not miss our bus home? Makes a certain sense, no? I see a pattern. With time, it could become tradition. Spend money, get nothing. Who could possibly resist?" Scott ignored him, lit a Marlboro.

Soon enough their bus arrived and they boarded. Scott, still in sunglasses, spied a cute redhead in the back to park next to, wasted no time chatting her up, offered her a cigarette. Jack and Red sat together, of course. Sheldon settled behind them next to a small stranger, an odd looking guy staring at nothing out his window. He was about 35, in a madras shirt and a madras windbreaker, and possessed an FBI Wanted Poster face: swarthy, beady-eyed, dark hair thinning.

Jack promptly fell asleep, snoring, clutching his record as if it were a lost love, no inkling that when his mom picked him up at the Albany station, she in hair-curlers, sucking angrily on a bent cig, would yank the record out of his hands, curse him, break it over her knee, and swat him on the head with it repeatedly and shamelessly, not one whit of concern regarding gasping onlookers stepping back from her fury while Jack deflected blows.

Red gazed into the middle-distance, in a sweat wondering just how badly he'd be beaten when his father got a hold of him. Would it be one punch? Or two? More? He wouldn't be hit in the face. A bruised face would be awkward to explain to neighbors. But he knew this much: As bad as the beating would be, this could not be taken from him. He'd been to Harlem and he'd been to Greenwich Village. And, more than that, he'd seen a goddess. Red Mazzo was a much richer man today than he'd been a day before.

Red had only been vaguely aware of Sheldon chatting with the weird fellow, but he tensed when he overheard the guy say, "Hey, tell me this, buddy, what do you think about the Jews?"

"Th-the Jews? Oooh, they're no good!"

"Yeah? You don't say. How so?"

"Oh, you know, cheap bastids. Sly bastids. No good. Hitler had the right idea, boy!"

"You don't say. Tell you what, chum, I'm Jewish."

Red had never heard the sound of a switchblade, but somehow he knew, when he heard that snik, that the man had pulled one on Sheldon. Red froze, didn't know what to do, Jack snored, and Sheldon squeaked, "H-hold your horses! I-I'm Jewish!"

"You don't say. Tell you what, recite your bar mitzvah prayers."

Red relaxed as he heard the ancient Hebrew roll off Sheldon's tongue, on and on. Red could sense Sheldon rocking back and forth like a bearded rabbi as he droned, the prayers rising up and down like a blender set on pulse.

"Okay. Enough. I knew you was a Jew," the madras maniac said, folding the stiletto, placing it in an inner pocket of the windbreaker. "And lemme tell you this, boychik: Do not ever deny being a Jew, not to anyone, not for any reason. Don't you never, ever, back down. Ever! Got it?"

"Yes! Oh yes, sir! You bet! You betcha!"

Lying atop the motel bed, Red dreamt that he was in a department store in the late-1940s. He knew it was December because there were Christmas decorations. Men wore wool topcoats and fedoras, smoked cigarettes. Ladies wore wool topcoats and hats, gloves. Children were in Sunday best. Red followed a throng, swept along, onto an escalator and, as it rose, he noticed that he was wearing a lace wedding gown and bridal veil. In one hand, a nosegay; in the other, a snub nose .38. As the escalator reached the mezzanine, Red passed the revolver to a towhead in a clip-on bowtie and tweed sport jacket. "Gee! Thanks, mister!"

As Red almost floated, the landscape changed from glass display cases of jewelry and a sporting goods section, to a meadow, lilacs and sunshine abounding. He approached Jack at the far end of the field, it seemed to take forever and ever, but when they were face-to-face, he said to his missing friend, "I guess this is it?" Everything turned to chromatic cyan to black to nothing at all. Then the angels, the choir of angels, sang, and he saw the Greenwich Village girl beckoning him, laughing silver bells.


Register or Login to leave a comment