StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

A Grown Man at Home with His Cats

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on January 31, 2010

Marquez en El Bano

So today I did something I haven’t done in years…

Watched “Sex & The City,” MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!

Yep.

Julius left for London at about 5 am. It’s the first Sunday we’re not spending together in a long time. So I went to Vajradhara Dharma Center for a workshop on “Transforming Anger” (mostly because I found myself almost coming to blows last night with a wholesale fur salesman – he mentioned his line of work – who called Julius an asshole after holding the wine line up at The Met – like, who doesn’t get in a fucking fist fight at “Carmen”?!). Then I rented a random “Sex & The City” DVD.

More specifically, Season 4, Disc 1. Just like old times. Yeah, I’m male – gay, but male all the same – and, years ago, when I was still single, I used to spend my Sunday afternoons watching Sex & the City with my kitten Marquez.

Now Marquez is a full-grown cat, as evidenced by the pic above. He now has two daddies and an adopted brother Giuseppe.

I met Julius when I was 32. I’ll be 36 this May. In the “The Agony and the ‘Ex’tasy” episode of this Sex & The City disc I’m watching, Carrie turns 35. She calls Big and says, “I’m officially old.” I knew that line was coming and I dreaded hearing it. But when she actually said it, I didn’t feel old or even unaccomplished!

This is a new one for me! I used to be a low-self-esteem machine and now I’m not even riding my own ass about being over 35!

Or even about the fact that, as a freelancer/creative writer, I spend my days at home with my cats now instead of hard-balling it in the real world.

Marquez's Teeth Extractions

A good friend of mine is a music producer/web-designer. We went out recently and he said he was awarded the Employee of the Year award at his job. He’s only been there a year too. I envied the validation he received but I didn’t envy that, in order to get said validation, he had to abide by office hours, not to mention a boss.

Still my news was less exciting. I brought up how I’d brought the cats to the vet for a teeth-cleaning the day before. Julius told me he’d read in Cat Fancy that it was important. I thought teeth-cleaning for cats was yet another extravagance that suckers like us are lavishing on our four-legged friends in the name of necessity. Turns out it is important, though.

Marquez’s breath had been foul for some time and his saliva reeked when he’d nip or rub his whiskers against your arm. I thought we could at least control that. When the vet checked his teeth, though, she said that he might have to have some extractions. Otherwise, if left unattended, infection could enter his bloodstream via abscessed teeth. (Giuseppe only had mild gingivitis.)

Poor Marquez had four teeth extracted, including one canine tooth on his bottom row of teeth. The cats were both stoned out of their minds when I brought them home from the hospital. They just sort of sat on the carpet, fading in and out of reality, riding out their bad trips all night. They were too zonked to even swat each other.

Once Marquez came to, though, he was a whole new cat. We’d been wondering why he’d been so grouchy over the past several months. Turns out it was his aching teeth! A hefty bill was attached to the cleaning and dental work but it was worth it. Now we’re going to get them done once a year and, next week, the vet is going to teach us how to brush our cats’ teeth at home.

If I’m going to be a grown man hanging out with his cats all day, they can at least be cats who aren’t crabby about having periodental disease.

Giuseppe

And, silly me, I thought the fact that they get more massages than the entire client load at the Mandarin Oriental would be enough to make them happy…

Goodbye, J.D. Salinger

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on January 29, 2010

I know this is overdue, but I’d like to pay my respects to J.D. Salinger on the blog.

He was an author of deep artistic integrity. He sure as hell stuck it to the publishing industry like no one else. No one has ever been such a holdout to those power-wielding prigs.

Still, I wish we’d been able to see more of his work.

Franny and Zooey is my favorite one of his books.

I’ll be the first to admit that Catcher in the Rye was an enormous influence on 85A.

In fact, this is how the back cover will read:

What do you get when you cross Holden Caulfield with Johnny Rotten? None other than Seamus O’Grady, the 15-year-old, punk-rock protagonist of 85A!

It’s a subzero Chicago morning on January 23, 1989—the Monday after George H.W. Bush’s inauguration—and Seamus is at his fighting best.  Braving the bitter cold at the 85A bus stop, Seamus rails against his repressive environment in anticipation of his “the-minute-I-turn-18” move to London.

His escape velocity mounts against the backdrop of a Midwest metropolis as memories, fantasies, and cityscapes collide on his commute to the south-side Jesuit high school that’s itching to kick him out for bad grades and excessive demerits.  When Seamus shows up late to school yet again, the dean prepares his expulsion papers. Liberated by failure, Seamus makes a break for London via an Amtrak to the mean streets of Late Eighties Manhattan.

85A tracks a watershed day in the life of an adolescent antihero. Foulmouthed with a capital F-word, Seamus embodies Johnny Rotten’s anarchic image as a way of fending off the bullies at home, at school and in his whites-only neighborhood.  Luckily for him, his mixed-raced, teen-prodigy friend Tressa opens him up to great books and experiences that turn his worldview on its head. Similarly, the Chicago L takes Seamus into integrated areas, giving him a glimpse of life outside the neighborhood, and Chicago’s thriving underground music and art scenes fortify his rebellion against the mainstream.  Through it all, Seamus basks in rebroadcasted BBC dramas, dreaming of what life would be if only he could stow away to London.

By the time Seamus reaches his last L stop, he will come to see that his 85A ride that morning was just the kickoff to an intrepid urban odyssey.

Salinger has been a mentor to coming-of-age novelists for over half a century.

On the bright side, in light of his passing, Catcher in the Rye will be fresh on everyone’s minds when 85A is released.

*

On Tuesday, I got the email. It’s official. My mother has liver cancer. Two years ago, when she was 75 years old, they found two tumors – one the size of a tennis ball, the other the size of a cantaloupe – on her ovaries. They had to operate. She had a hysterectomy at 75! Fortunately, she’d gotten a lot of use out of that womb, what with having borne seven children, none of whom were twins. The surgery was a success. She went through almost ten rounds of chemo and beat the cancer into remission. It has migrated to her liver, though. She started yet another regimen of chemo yesterday.

In some ways, I can’t think of a worse time for 85A to come out. The novel is fiction, of course, but Seamus grows up in my old neighborhood in Chicago. Some things in the novel happened in real life, even more things never happened. But will the family buy that? Not to mention the explicit adult content and mature themes, which is why, like with Catcher, the book is being marketed to adults even though the protagonist is a teenager. That’s the risk we authors have to take, albeit in more opportune times, normally.

One of my brothers recently resurfaced in my life. He came to town last week and stayed with me and Julius. We got on better than we ever had before. He said he wants to see more of me. He also said he wants to read 85A. I deflected. I think he began to suspect why.

But it’s fiction, goddammit! With one or two exceptions, each character is a composite of anywhere from three to a dozen people I’ve known (or, in some cases, have never known) throughout my life. And I’ve got a right to write fiction! So I’ve elected not to retract publication of the book.

*

In any event, let me conclude with a quote. I’ve read the Tao Te Ching a zillion times throughout the years, but somehow glossed over one verse that I would think would have meant the most to me. Julius and I went to the Mark Rothko Chapel when we were in Houston a few weeks ago. While I did a 45 minute meditation, he read a copy of Lao Tsu’s book that was laying out on a bench by the front door. When I was done meditating, he came over and read Verse 20 of the Tao Te Ching to me. It pretty much sums up Holden Caulfield’s life and mine and my character Seamus’ and possibly Salinger’s:

Give up learning, and put an end to your troubles.

Is there a difference between yes and no?
Is there a difference between good and evil?
Must I fear what others fear? What nonsense!
Other people are contented, enjoying the sacrificial feast of the ox.
In spring some go to the park, and climb the terrace,
But I alone am drifting, not knowing where I am.
Like a newborn babe before it learns to smile,
I am alone, without a place to go.

Others have more than they need, but I alone have nothing.
I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused.
Other men are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Other men are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea,
Without direction, like the restless wind.

Everyone else is busy,
But I alone am aimless and depressed.
I am different.
I am nourished by the great mother.

(“Are You Different?,” Verse 20, Tao Te Ching)

R.I.P. – J.D. Salinger (January 1, 1919 – January 27, 2010)

How to Be a Happy Liberal in a Center-Right Society: Or, Why I’m Going (Or Going to Try Going) Apolitical Now

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on January 20, 2010

“I don’t know how we’ll blow it, but somehow we will, because that’s what we Democrats do!”

an organizer who looks remarkably like Arianna Huffington

on the “E Plurbis Wiggum” episode

of The Simpsons


Republican Scott Brown bested Democrat Martha Coakley today in the Massachussets senate race.

“There is a revolt going on in this country,” said Bay Buchanan, “Massachusetts will just inspire the patriot movement.”

Fuck!

After all the dems’ loathsome dithering, healthcare reform might not even happen now! Obama’s first year in office might look like a total and utter waste, and the last thing I ever wanted to see was a victory for people like Scott Brown and his jingoist cheerleader Bay Buchanan.

But if the democrats had done such a bang-up job of creating jobs, holding banks accountable and taking a united stand on universal healthcare, they wouldn’t be in the trouble they’re in now.

And let’s talk Afghanistan for a second. Isn’t it scandalous that Obama ever enacted troop escalation over there – further draining our resources and reserves – just so the Republicans won’t think he’s soft on defense? Guess what, Barack? No matter how much you may seek to please the right, they’re never going to like you. Plus, there are more al qaeda members in the U.S. these days than in Afghanistan. Most of them have fled into Pakistan, an ally we can’t attack! But congratulations, all the same! You’ve shown that you can marshall troops – however desultory your strategy.

(Let me contradict myself here, though, by asking why he isn’t getting more credit for his humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti. If he hadn’t earned his Nobel Peace Prize before (and I think he had earned it), he has now.)

And maybe gays have more friends among democrats than among republicans – but the majority of democrats in congress, not to mention most state senators and assemblypersons, aren’t about to risk their careers supporting us, no matter how much they tell us to be patient while slyly courting our votes.

And liberal third parties don’t seem to be offering viable alternatives. (Nader, I’m looking at you.)

Even so, I’m sick of voting for democrats just because they’re not republicans. No party in American politics seems to be worth my vote or my spleen.

Maybe going apolitical is the best route since it doesn’t look like we can look to our elected officials for reform.

(Why the hell didn’t I have this earth-shattering revelation before I shelled out a full $60 to renew my membership with the DNC last week?! I hope call-waiting clicks in when that telemarketer calls back next year.)

Months ago, I was dismayed by a screed of news reports coming off the “Best of the Left” application on my iPhone. It seemed like every time I flipped to a new story, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party protesters were gaining more and more currency among middle Americans.

I scoffed to Julius, “Why do I even bother bitching anymore? I mean, let’s face it! This isn’t fucking Amsterdam! We live in a conservative country. It always has been, at least ever since I’ve known it…”

He threw up his hands, “Well, what can you do?”

I said, “You know what, someone should write a book called How to Be a Happy Liberal in a Center-Right Society. You know? Something like that book from the Eighties, How to Be a Happy Homosexual”?

He cocked an eyebrow, “Good idea.  You should write that book.”

I said, “I would. But I don’t know how to be a happy liberal in a center-right society.”

Good night, America (and take that as you will…),

Kyle Thomas Smith

The Ballad of Lucy Jordan

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on January 19, 2010

I saw Marianne Faithfull at Lincoln Center last Wednesday.

Even in her mid-Sixties, she hasn’t lost her grit – a raspy old Eurydice looking back on how her passion for the young Orpheus plunged her into Hades.

She did a brilliant version of “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” with lyrics by Shell Silverstein.

It appears on her “Broken English” (1979) album. I didn’t know she’d made a video for it in 1980. I posted it above.

Here are the lyrics – bittersweet and wistful, as expected:

The morning sun touched lightly on the eyes of Lucy Jordan
In a white suburban bedroom in a white suburban town
As she lay there ‘neath the covers dreaming of a thousand lovers
Till the world turned to orange and the room went spinning round.

At the age of thirty-seven she realised she’d never
Ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair.
So she let the phone keep ringing and she sat there softly singing
Little nursery rhymes she’d memorised in her daddy’s easy chair.

Her husband, he’s off to work and the kids are off to school,
And there are, oh, so many ways for her to spend the day.
She could clean the house for hours or rearrange the flowers
Or run naked through the shady street screaming all the way.

At the age of thirty-seven she realised she’d never
Ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair
So she let the phone keep ringing as she sat there softly singing
Pretty nursery rhymes she’d memorised in her daddy’s easy chair.

The evening sun touched gently on the eyes of Lucy Jordan
On the roof top where she climbed when all the laughter grew too loud
And she bowed and curtsied to the man who reached and offered her his hand,
And he led her down to the long white car that waited past the crowd.

At the age of thirty-seven she knew she’d found forever
As she rode along through Paris with the warm wind in her hair …

(“The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” Marianne Faithfull, 1979; lyrics, Shell Silverstein)

Graffiti Beater: “Therefore the Purest Form of Art.”

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on January 18, 2010

Look, I’m not saying I live in the ‘hood.

For Chrissake, I live on Third Street and even my cats get manicures twice a month!

If anything, this is the nabe.

But this truck has been in front of my house since last week.

Now, I don’t mind it, mind you. I think it gives the neighborhood some much-needed character. I think I’ll even miss it when it’s either towed or moved by the gold-plated, chain-laden owner.

Just look at the Seventies Hindenburg-funk letters! It’s got a helluva lot more soul than the poodle-patrols, charging down these streets on rhinestone-studded leashes.

Reason I took the truck’s picture is that it reminds me of a most thought-provoking slogan that I saw scrawled in Magic marker on Tea Lounge’s red-brick bathroom wall after I packed up from a day of writing this afternoon. (Tea Lounge has the same laissez-faire policy toward its bathroom walls that the New York MTA did with its pre-Nineties subway cars.) This defacing moment of Zen reads as follows:

Bathroom graffiti is done neither for fame nor for profit

And is therefore the purest form of art. Discuss…

Now that’ll make for some serious cawwwfee-tawwwk right there, won’t it? I contemplated it the whole way home as I stepped over poodles and the many little legacies they leave behind them.

I’ll meditate on it still more as I give Giuseppe, the male Kate Moss of comfy kitties, his mani-pedi tonight.

Jazzonia at the Carlyle Room

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on January 18, 2010

I went through the pics on my iPhone and found a good shot I took of the Carlyle Room, which we dropped into late one Saturday night, over a month ago, when our friends Joe and Paul were in from D.C.

Now that I’ve found the photo, I think I’ll post it.

I don’t know if Woody Allen still plays clarinet at the Carlyle on Tuesday nights and I’m sure that, like everything else that’s stood the test of time, it ain’t what it used to be…

But we had a good time:

It’s not in Harlem – it’s in the Rosewood Hotel on the Upper East Side (76th St/Madison) – but this pic of the Carlyle Room still reminds me of a great poem by Langston Hughes called “Jazzonia”:

Oh, silver tree!

Oh, shining rivers of the soul!

In a Harlem cabaret

Six long-headed jazzers play.

A dancing girl whose eyes are bold

Lifts high a dress of silken gold.

Oh, singing tree!

Oh, shining rivers of the soul!

Were Eve’s eyes

In the first garden

Just a bit too bold?

Was Cleopatra gorgeous

In a gown of gold?

Oh, shining tree!

Oh, silver rivers of the soul!

In a whirling cabaret

Six long-headed jazzers play.

(Langston Hughes, “Jazzonia,” 1923)

The Count of Brooklyn

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on January 17, 2010

Okay, so, my New Years resolution was to read one chapter of War and Peace each day. The chapters are only two to five pages long and I figured that, after a year, I’d make it at least halfway through the book, which is leaps and bounds beyond what I’d been able to do in more ambitious times.

So, on weekends, to stave off the boredom of the book’s plethoric drawing-room scenes, I’ve been reading my chapter-a-day aloud to Julius in bed.  I remarked on how the characters sit there calling each other by new names all the time, names that have nothing to do with their real names. Julius tried to explain the protocol to me, “So, your middle name is Thomas. So, in this setting, I could call you either ‘Kyle Thomascovich” or ‘Thomascovich’ or just ‘Smith.'”

My eyes started crossing, so he made a more concerted effort: “Now, if you were an aristocrat, say, a Count, say, the Count of Brooklyn, I could call you, ‘Count Thomascovich’ or ‘Count Kyle Thomas Smith’ or, if I were speaking to other people, I could refer to you as ‘The Count of Brooklyn.'”

I nodded and said, “Yes. Someone once referred to me as the Count of Brooklyn. Except the ‘o’ in Count was silent.”

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85A (Bascom Hill Publishing, 2010)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on January 17, 2010

I’ve been off the blog for a while but thought I should get back on with some good news.

85A is being published by Bascom Hill Publishing in Minneapolis!

It will be released by May 2010.

This is the new cover (above)!

Bascom loved the original cover (below), which my ingenious friend Joe Flood illustrated with my novice art direction, but they feel that their version has better marketing potential in the current publishing climate.  Either way, Joe’s work will remain enshrined (mounted and framed) in my home office.  Seeing it pulled me through many a hard and hopeless querying day.

The book has gone through many incarnations since I began writing it in January 2008. Most notably, it went from an unwieldy 446 pages to a slim 243 pages.

Writing 85A, not to mention getting it published, has been one of the highlights of my life. Here’s hoping there are more highlights and more books to come from Kyle Thomas Smith (aka, Colin MacGowan and Ethel Moneymaker)!

In my acknowledgments, I thank the following people:

I’d like to thank my partner, Julius Leiman-Carbia, for his endless inspiration and support throughout the writing of this book; the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn for being infinitely patient with me as I sit writing for hours on its couches, almost every day, after ordering only one or two cups of coffee; Mike Levine for his friendship and unqualified backing in tough times; Mark Levine for helping me get published; Rachael Dean Scholes for her friendship, feedback and expertise on all things English; Joe Flood for his artistic excellence; New York Insight and Vajradhara Dharma Center for priceless instruction in meditation and the dharma; the great Geoff Herbach for offering to read 85A; Shell Fischer, Gail Martin, Randy Peyser, Sarah Getty and Rachel Fichter for pivotal editorial support; my illustrious cats, Marquez and Giuseppe, who always let me know I’m aces to them; and my mother, Maureen Ann Smith, for encouraging me to be a writer when it wasn’t even a thought in my mind.