Monthly Archives: January 2018

SONNY LISTON

 tom briggs

The first time I saw Sonny Liston was on the cover of the December 1961 edition
(35 cents!)of Boxing Illustrated. He was in a fighting pose and was wearing black Everlast speed bag gloves. He was also wearing a scowling, menacing look. He glared at me from that cover, like he was mad at me personally. Liston was the number one heavyweight contender for Floyd Patterson’s heavyweight championship. Since that issue, Liston has remained the most intriguing and compelling athlete I’ve ever seen in some fifty five years of following major sports. That covers hundreds of great athletes, including Sandy Koufax, Joe Montana, George Foreman and the greatest athlete I ever saw in any sport: Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali.

Liston was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in the early 1930’s. No one knows the exact year. At age fourteen he escaped to St. Louis from his share cropping family which included his parents plus twelve brothers and sisters. His often liquored-up father had regularly used him as a punching bag. To say that Sonny gravitated to the wrong crowd in St. Louis is an understatement. Soon the hulking youth developed into a formidable street mugger and armed robber and was eventually sentenced to five years in Missouri State Penitentiary. It was in the University of Detention where he learned how to box, earning a masters degree in jaw-breaking and rib crushing. In 1956, he assaulted a cop and did six months.

Upon his release, he hooked up with mobsters Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo, securing part-time employment as part of their shakedown and enforcement teams. He soon started climbing up the professional heavyweight ladder during the mid to late fifties, scoring impressive knock outs, usually early round, over rated fighters. One of his managers during this run of victories was mob appointed Joe Barone. Interestingly, his management team regularly matched him with tough fighters with hard punches. Liston could deliver and take, a tremendous punch.

Floyd was rather small for a heavyweight. At five feet eleven inches, he weighed between a hundred eighty five and a hundred ninety . Cus D’Amato, Patterson’s manager, made certain that Floyd stayed clear of Liston and several other hard hitting heavyweights. Liston weighed around two eighteen, some twenty five pounds heavier than Patterson. Sonny also had a tremendous reach advantage over Floyd But that was not the most remarkable difference between the two. While Patterson had fast hands and a decent left hook, Liston was a murderous hitter with either hand. Rib-cracking body shots. A right cross that would have you seeing five referees counting over you. And an uppercut that could send your mandible where your cranium was. Even when his punches landed on the arms, opponents complained of pain and soreness for weeks afterwards. Liston had fourteen inch fists. Sports Illustrated writer Mort Sharnic described them as ‘two cannon balls made into fists’. He also possessed a left jab that was described by many who fought him as if being hit with the butt end of a telephone pole. No doubt, the best left jab in heavyweight history, aided by an incredible plus eighty inch reach. Many still rate the prime Liston of 1958-1962 as one of the best heavyweights of all time. Certainly the best or second best puncher in the last hundred twenty years.

As if these endowments weren’t enough. During the referee’s pre-fight instructions in the center of the ring, Liston would stand, Reddish beside him, about two inches from the other fighter. I can still see it on television. Nose to nose. Sonny is wearing his customary white hooded terrycloth robe. His dark face is surrounded by white. The guy made Darth Vader look like a pink cupcake. He then would shake-down the other fighter with his jungle-like predators eyes. Sonny would mug him and take away his courage before the bell even rang. As his opponent walked back to his corner to await the bell, his legs were already a little wobbly.

Most impressive of Liston’s wins were his two demolitions of highly rated Houston heavyweight Cleveland Williams, 1959-60. ‘Big Cat’ Williams was a ferocious hitter with fast hands. Many fighters had ducked him. After taking some heavy punishment from William’s early assaults, Liston caught up with him, pole-axing and starching* the Big Cat in rounds two and three, respectively. One could only imagine what Patterson might’ve been thinking had he witnessed these demolitions. Check it out on You Tube. Liston Williams. One and Two.

In the high school where I went there were a few ‘Sonny’s. ’ Nobody, black or white, messed with this incarnation. They were built like grown men while in ninth and tenth grade, though they might’ve been left back a grade or two. Rumours flew that that one drove a milk truck before school or that another had three kids. They would shake you down for change on the stairwell. “Let me hold a quarter” they’d say. Horsing around in gym class, they could fracture your breastbone with a playful punch. They had that look that said ‘share something with me’. ‘Be my friend, you are my friend, and friends lend money to friends’.

Liston would do his speed bag, heavy-bag and rope skipping to James Brown’s Night Train with his head trainer, the beret-topped Willie Reddish, looking on.
“All aboard for the night train / Miami, Florida/ Atlanta, Georgia / Raleigh, North Carolina /Washington D.C. Oh, and Richmond, Virginia too/Baltimore, Maryland / Philadelphia New York City / Take it home And don’t forget New Orleans / The home of the blues /Oh, yeah, night train Night train, night train”

I’ve been to a few of those cities, and many others. Invariably the train or Greyhound bus I rode on entered the city from the poor side of town. Usually places where the Liston’s of the City hung out or were raised in. Sometimes I think I’m part black, because I can feel the rhythm in that song with a rare intensity. I can hear the crickets. I swat at mosquito’s that aren’t there. See the red lights and hear the sirens of the Man. Especially the hot summer city. Especially the night city. Especially the Southern city. This all is The Essence of Liston. Considering the milieu that Sonny came from, the Arkansas sharecroppers farm, the streets, the prison, the bullet invested world of the mob, facing a fighter who wanted to take his head off was like a vacation. “I’ll have another Daiquiri while I break this guy’s ribs with a body shot” “Ah, feels good to finally relax now, the bell is about to ring”

Patterson was articulate and sensitive. He didn’t talk like a fighter. He often sounded apologetic after beating an opponent. But he was a great fighter and he loved being a fighter. But he was better suited against fighters his own size. And he did very well against light-punching fighters. The anti-climactic results: Liston destroyed Patterson, first in Chicago in 1962, then in Las Vegas the following year. Both were first round knockouts.

In 1964, in one of the greatest upsets in ring history, Liston was stopped by Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, Liston failing to answer the bell for the seventh round. The odds for that fight were seven to one, Liston. Maybe Sonny had too many early round knockouts. Maybe he aged all at once. But could Clay/Ali have beaten the 1959 Liston? Maybe, maybe not. In 1974, in yet another huge upset, Ali knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round. The way I figure it, Ali remains the greatest heavyweight who ever lived. The only heavyweight to have beaten huge odds twice against tremendous punchers to win the title. Foreman was considered to be another Liston by many – a bigger and taller version with as much, if not more, punching power. I rate him the second or third greatest heavyweight in history. But neither had the essence, mystique, history or ability to chill the spine of other fighters quite like Charles Sonny Liston. The Night Train fighter.

It has recently been suggested that there is not enough character dialogue in my writing. This by someone very close and important to me as it gets. Also, the fact that I’ve always thought it would be great to interview Sonny Liston, here goes:

TB Sonny, I thought you were underrated, all-time.
SL Thanks.
TB It must have been tough being the son of a sharecropper.
SL Yeah. The only thing my father gave me was a beating.
TB Why did you look so mean during the referee’s instructions?
SL Cause the other fighter wanted something from me and I didn’t want to give him nothing. I wasn’t there to tap dance for him.
TB What was it like as a teenager on the streets of St. Louis?
SL Not as bad as the farm in Arkansas. I didn’t have any money then.
TB But you mugged people in St. Louis. You robbed them, using a gun.
SL That’s right. I was hungry. Plus I wanted to get even.
TB Get even? With who?
SL With life, cause the dice I was handed early on in life never won me anything.
TB What was prison like?
SL It was tough at first. But I got used to it. Boxing saved me from going crazy.
TB Did that somehow make things easier in the professional ring?
SL Yeah. That was easy compared to having guards watching me all the time
and cons asking for favours.

TB What happened in the first Clay fight? You said it was a shoulder injury, that you couldn’t go on.
SL I just said that. Clay was too fast. Too smart. He wasn’t afraid of me, like the others.
TB I have to ask this question. How was it working on the Braniff Airlines commercial with Andy Warhole?
SL It was ok. But we had to do it over and over again (laughs)
Warhole made me laugh too much.
TB So what do you think of Foreman and Tyson? Could you have beaten them in your prime?
SL Foreman was like me. Strong and he didn’t mess around. Somebody would go down, probably in a late round. Probably him. (Laughs)
TB And Tyson?
SL Tyson is crazy. He might bite my ear off. (laughs again) But he comes right at a fighter. That’s dangerous with me.
TB How did you die, Sonny? There was a lot of mystery surrounding your death.
SL It was an overdose of heroin.
TB Any regrets Sonny?
SL Yeah. I could’ve made some people happier. Especially kids. I should’ve gave them more time. Street kids like me.
TB Sometimes, I saw that in your eyes. Thanks for talking with me, Sonny.
SL Your welcome.

*Common boxing slang terms.
Stunned, as if hit with a poleaxe. / Starched, like a stiff shirt, not moving.

 

CALIFORNIA STORY AT A BRONX COFFEE SHOP

tom briggs

Sometime in the late eighties.

In the shadows of the 241st Street subway station, last stop on the IRT line, half an hour to Yankee Stadium. White Plains Road. DeLillo Country. The City Line twenty-four hour bakery and coffee shop. Where the bookies, hoods and dreamers  from City Island to Baychester hung out, talking about how Frankie done this, and Joey done that and how Jimmy Pepperoni got nailed for drugs and was headed for the Dannemora big house for at least ten years with good behaviour but that Jimmy never had good behaviour so forget about it. But maybe Johnny The Greaser could get him reduced, no problem. The protagonist in this story has ‘been there and done that and wishes everyone to know about it.

…..”Hear about Franky Tagliateli’s ’s kid Joey? Going to Fordham. Hey, any kid that uses the word perhaps instead of maybe is not cut out for our line of work. And not for nothing but Joey, not that Joey, but Joey The Plumber, his wife that is, makes the sweetest meatballs. Momma Mia. Better than at Antonio’s up in Yonkers. Then not for nothing again, but OTB is taking the action away from the local bookies and now the Feds and those crumbs in Albany are bigger hustlers and bums than all of the slobs in Wakefield. Look who just walked through the door! That Irish goon Mike Quinn. How in hell did he find time between hold-ups? Are you shitting me or what? Sit right here. Tell us all a tale of woe. Where you going? Hey! I was just saying…

Hey! Come here! Are you Tommy DeVino’s kid Tommy Two? You the guy that wanted to know about California from twenty-five years ago? Come over here. Sit right down. I was there when it was California. I got stories. You want to listen? Good.

I went there in sixty-four. I was twenty. Flunked the draft exam down on Whitehall Street the year before on account of eczema. I was shit-faced happy about that. I was working for a place called Wakefield Signs on 210th Street then, right under the el. It’s not there anymore. I was making good money already. Hand-lettering paper banners and sometimes trucks. Somebody there knew a sign guy from Los Angeles. Me and a guitarist named Frankie Jerome from Baychester Avenue decided to jet out there. He was a year older than me.

We rode on a seven twenty-seven. Coast to coast. First time flying. Never got the creeps from it though. Those wings cut through time like it was a tomato and the engines played a joke on three thousand miles. A few minutes after take-off, the whole city, the whole damn dirty Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island easily fit in the small window I was looking out of. I was right here at the coffee shop at five in the morning. I was in Los Angeles at two in the afternoon. Yeah, I know, the time zone changes didn’t hurt either. When I saw those orange rooftops of San Bernardino smiling up at me and all those swimming pools glittering like aqua-colored jewels, I knew I’d never go back. Naturally, I’m back now, but that’s a much longer story than the one I’m telling now. I’m just saying.

Everything was strange like in a dream. Looked nothing like the Bronx. Not even Westchester. Nothing like anything I ever saw. Another planet. All those pink and light green deco buildings and convertible cars. Those Googie signs. The kind that Huxley liked. Those wide streets. The palms shooting towards the sun. Santa Monica Pier. And Venice Beach was like an Annette Funicello movie that kept running. A carnival all year long. Three weeks later, Frankie got involved with some musicians in the Valley and I never saw him again. But I didn’t miss him. Too busy. I heard he wound up in San Francisco. That’s where everyone said to go. That’s where it’s happening, they said. Flower Power, poetry, guitars, sex and dope was happening for them. But I got good gig at Western Signs, after only a month. On Pico lettering trucks. Before the year was out, I had enough money to buy a 1956 M Series Mercury truck. Red. Good condition too. Paid seven hundred for it.

I met up with crazy Justin Thyme one day on La Brea. But that wasn’t his real name. He was lettering a window. His name was Arnold Goldberg or something. Around ten years older than me. What a fastidious bastard. Complain about a speck of dust. About anything. Come from Bushwick in Brooklyn. Did a little time in Rikers Island and Tombs for this and that. So he upped and moved to California. In fifty-nine, I think. Probably running from alimony. Or creditors. Or forgery. Or worse. Upped and joined the Krishna’s. You ought to get a load of those characters. Drifters, dreamers, schemers. Anyway, Justin lived free and easy. Usually got free board from the local temple. Moved around the state. What an operator. First in San Diego. Then Santa Rosa. Santa Barbara. Long Beach. Up and down the coast. When I met him, he had a shop in LA, compliments of Hare Krishna Temple, at La Cienega and Venice.

Hung with him for a few months. Justin always got the best weed. Knew every whorehouse from Long Beach to Daly City. The guy was a great sign painter. A real
Michelangelo. He made signs that you wanted to take home and sleep with. Signs that you wanted to walk right into. I’m not shitting you. They weren’t signs. They were events. Happenings. Mesmerizing they were. He would take a week just to prepare the signboard. Sanding, priming, painting. Drying. Sanding again. Then repeating everything a few times more. Something like the Dutch do with their doors and window frames. The surface would shine like a mirror. You could shave while looking into it. Then he would hand letter it, using One Shot enamels. That’s where I first heard about One Shot, because we always used Ronan’s in New York. That would take another week. But it looked like God made it. Or one of His right-hand sign painting angels.

One time I was lettering the door of Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset in Hollywood when I saw Johnny Rivers for the first time. Got to know him a little bit. Real name is Ramistella. Great singer, guitarist and songwriter. A legend. He even invited me for a recording session. I was there in the studio on Sunset when he recorded Poor Side of Town. A religious experience. I’m not shitting you. The guy had style. Class. Come from Louisiana. Memphis. Secret Agent Man. California Dreaming better than the Momma’s and Papa’s hit. I’m not shitting you. His stuff never ever gets old. The guy had phrasing. Emotion. Great guitar, too. Underrated something awful. The Whiskey was nothing until he made it big. Iggy and The Stooges played there. The Doors too. The Byrds. I saw them all. And the girls. They swarmed like bees that made the right kind of honey if you get my meaning. When I go, don’t send me to heaven, please. Just send me back there at the Whiskey.

Then there was the sign guy who wrote on the side. Rudy Dietrich was his name. We called him Rudy Kazootie. Real good sign guy. Knew about type and layout instead of just hand lettering. Better than most. He drank too much. First beer. Then wine. Then Mad Dog. That’s what he drank. At the end, he Short Dogged it on the streets. The little bottles. All he could afford. It got to him finally. Hardly ate. A bowl of cigarette butts for breakfast. Was full crazy without it and half crazy with it. A real shame. The guy had talent. A manuscript that nobody saw, nobody read. Thick as a phone book, it was. All about the demons of art, of love, of the abandoned soul, the alienated self. That heavy shit of what makes us all tick. After getting a little juiced, he would call in on KABC talk radio and read a satire he’d written. Got lots of laughs. He died on Jefferson one Sunday morning with the sun coming up. Laying there in the gutter. Thirty-nine years old. A frameless nameless sketch. Lost and never found. Missed for only a short while by a handful of bums from Venice Beach.

And ask me about that prodigiously talented nut case Phil Spector. OK, the guy was a musical genius. But a tough Jew with a temper like TNT. And brains. Always thought the guy was connected. Maybe Cohen’s Family bankrolled him. Who knows. Mickey Cohen was still running things Los Angeles underworld-style in those days. Maybe I was dreaming but I could’ve sworn I saw Mickey go into Gold Star one day. That’s where Spector made his Wall of Sound. A storefront right on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. I’m not shitting you. I was gold-leafing a window not two doors down the block. I was fascinated with that little store. But I never was inside. I would go by there once in a while. See who was showing up. I wouldn’t go near Spector. Not after I saw him once railing against some studio musician or poor slob technician. But I did talk with half of The Righteous Brothers one day. Bobby Hatfield was a nice guy. The king of blue-eyed soul had a simple heart of gold.
I’m not shitting you.

When I got enough money together, I opened my own shop on Montana, Horizon Signs three blocks up from the Pacific. Santa Monica was great in those days. The rent was only one hundred fifty bucks a month. Think about that. I ate at Zucky’s Deli on Wilshire and Fifth for lunch. I think it’s still there. Sandwiches. Ham and Swiss on Rye. Better than drugs. A BLT, thicker than a canned ham, was a buck and a quarter. Think about that too. Had those fabulous red leather seats. Same at Ships Diner in Culver City and a hundred other lunch joints in LA. Ships was right by the Metro Goldwyn Studios, where I lettered a few props. You would see all those TV actors coming in at Ships and Zucky’s. The ones that did all those series. Twilight Zone, Cannon, The Fugitive. I’m not shitting you. Jack Klugman, Peter Faulk Angie Dickenson. A lot of others. Everything was happening. The old and the new. I even saw Stan Laurel one day walking on Jefferson, not long after I got there. In sixty-five, right before he died. I loved the guy, but I didn’t want to bother him.

I saw a taping The Turtles were doing right in front of the LA Water and Power Building, Bunker Hill. Sixty-five, I think. I was working on a sign right across the street. They were lip-syncing “You, Nobody But You”. Nice kids. Goofing around while they did it. They were just like me, looking for the gold. They started out as nothing, right on Sepulveda, near LAX, but they found a lot more gold than I ever did. But those were the days. Golden days of flagrant youth. When courage was forged from delusions. Where dreams ripened like avocados in the California sun.
Hey, I even wrote a poem about it. I think I remember it. Goes something like this:

Those long gone LA days.
Tooling around in the warm sun rays/

In my old Merk truck, the one of red.
Now a sign on La Brea, pays good, ‘nuff said/

In the majestic light blue and tan of the city.
Though its style disappears, oh what a pity/

What a place, a regular paradise.
Even considering all its vice/

What a shame, that place on Fairfax upped and closed.
And now a few more while expectations dozed.

The sun has set, beyond the Monica Wheel,
Lovely sight, though blue I feel/

But the memories, they are mine forever.
And has LA died? Never never never!

That’s it kid. Thanks for listening. I got to go place a bet with Jimmy The Wop.
Say hi to your father for me.

REEL BIG FOOT IN MEDITERRANEAN

tom briggs

Two huge pieces of footwear, one weighing almost sixty kilos, were hauled in from the Mediterranean Sea, seven kilometers off the coast of Villanueva Loubet, Cote D’ Azure, late yesterday. Julian Carpentier, 37, first caught a thirty-seven-kilo sneaker. An hour later, he hauled in an amazing shoe, which weighed fifty-nine kilos. Both are world records for footwear. Archeologists, anthropologists, oceanographers, criminal investigators, world media and their presstitutes, are descending upon the Riveria community known as Marina Baie Anges, to begin examining the incredible catches. Approximately half a million onlookers disguised as gawkers, pickpockets and busy-bodies have already amassed at the seaside community like so many pesky gnats.

While aboard his ten-meter inboard Jeanneau, Catch This, Carpentier had first netted a few plus ten-kilo striped bass. At about two in the afternoon, and after an hour and a half struggle, he landed the gigantic sneaker. “I felt, after landing it and observing its size and approximate weight, that I was lucky to have hooked it on the toe-end. This allowed much less water resistance.” He added: “ I’d landed footwear in the past, but obviously nothing like this. This is the highpoint of some twenty years of fishing”

Carpentier, a bagel baker from Biot who fishes these waters every week, had at first thought to have the massive footwear professionally dried and restored, then hung in his apartment as wall displays. Or to have them sliced up and given to friends for Christmas and as birthday gifts. However, he now has considered the lucrative monetary possibilities of the monumental catches. Barring any legal restrictions or jurisdiction limits, such as size limitations from Cote d’ Azure/Alps Maritime Ocean Regulation authorities. Indeed, suspicion is gathering relative to the unlikelihood of Carpentier landing such a massive object on 45-kilo test line. Nets would be the only other possible way to get them on board. And nets are illegal for private fishermen.

While initial conclusions of professional observers were that the footwear is of some promotional or advertising origin, early on-the-scene scientists, including oceanographer Dr. Christof Seafluer, MOS, and noted anthropologist Dr. Gesippe A. de Species, Ph.D., run counter to that conclusion. Their early observations are that the footwear’s material is unlike any they have ever encountered. They are intrigued by the strange molecular structure of both catches. They are also excited by the microscopic material surface deposits that indicate an alien form of DNA. The discovery will no doubt bring millions in funding to those scientists and universities fortunate enough to be selected to conduct extensive research.

Representatives from rapacious blood-sucking companies Nike, Adidas, Converse and other footwear ‘giants’ are en route. Nick Prophit, executive sales director for Nike International said: “This astounding discovery offers the possibility that a race of giants inhabit an area below the ocean floor. If that is the case, and it appears likely, we’re determined to be their supplier of footwear. A few million more slave wage workers is a small price to pay” Gideon La Monopolli, regional CEO for Adidas, quipped: “Adidas has already offered ten billion, give or take a buck, to any oceanographic organization willing to conduct a full-scale underwater investigation that guarantees results” Damian Bhotohmliny, Converse CEO, added: “We have already started overhauling our worldwide production apparatus in anticipation.” Executives for the National Basketball Association haven’t yet been reached for comment.

THE GORILLA OF VENTIMIGLIA

tom briggs
(A television news report)

“Rumors continue to swirl around the Cote d’ Azur regarding the ‘Gorilla of Ventimiglia’. But now it appears that they’re not just rumors. We spoke with several market goers, the mayor of Ventimiglia, a restaurant owner and even an anonymous celebrity. They all assure us that it is indeed true. A 200 kilo gorilla has been spotted throughout the world-famous venue.  Here are some eye-witness accounts from a few of those who were indeed present yesterday at the Ventimiglia market. Over to Jason Linquini, live in Ventimiglia”:

“Thanks Chris. Beautiful Saturday here in Ventimiglia.  Crazy day yesterday, though. Lot’s of happy faces still here.  Lot’s of excitement in the air.  A wonder what a gorilla can do. Let’s start talking with some of those happy folks who were here yesterday”…

“We were here yesterday. We come every Friday.  So we were very surprised when we arrived. We spotted the first of many signs that announced the gorilla’s presence. That and that traffic seemed heavier than usual. Translated into English, the sign roughly read: Gorilla on Foot Patrol (big letters) Do not be alarmed. (slightly smaller) He is an important temporary member of the Ventimiglia Market Police Force. Carry on with your normal shopping. Please do not feed, photograph, distract or attempt to converse with him. (much smaller) Penalties for these infractions start at €150,00 for all non-Senegalese and Pakistani persons.  (you need reading glasses) The above message was blared over loud speakers as well, in Italian, French, and English at regular ten-minute intervals, throughout the market. It added a somewhat disconcerting and unwanted edge of authority to an already uniquely novel market experience”.
Menton resident, Pierre Lafollett

“We learned at the info booth that the ape was added to the force for his remarkable agility and uncanny crime prevention instincts. I guess to help cut down on littering, illegal games of chance, shoplifting and such. I guess his size and potential for violence played into it as well. My wife and I witnessed one episode involving an elderly white-haired woman of a certain girth running as best she could, at that age, with the gorilla in hot pursuit. We heard screams in the commotion as the gorilla easily caught up with her, then quite casually stood in front of the culprit with his arms crossed. Funny, it looked like he was saying  “come on, hand it over”. He was waving his right index finger. Sort of like a grade school teacher. Damnest thing I ever saw.  The slack-jawed  woman complied as she handed over three watches and half a dozen shawls. But the gorilla kept on with his wagging finger. She then relented by handing over the remains of her day’s larceny – a pair of women’s shoes, two cigarette lighters and a beach towel with an Elvis portrait on it. Both of them then just walked on in opposite directions, like it was nothing.”
Billy Bob Williams, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA

“We seea the gorilla in many places. We thinka maybe that there are many of him. At half pasta one, we see himma by the fountaina. He wassa throwing orange fruita over hissa  head. He then kick it witha his heel! It go over his head and he catcha with hissa righta handa! He thenna peela the orange. Everybody happy about dissa. Theya laugha. We too.  Later, he starta talking witha all the Senegalese! They, all of dema, theya  laughing and maka high five with himma. Theesa not normalla! We love thissa gorilla!”
Antonio Parmasiani, Ventimiglia resident.

“While budgetary considerations were an issue to add the ape to our force, the unfortunate inefficacy and misfeasance of several of the Ventimiglia market police was the prime reason for the experiment. With the market force reduced by some 40% on as yet to be determined future market days, the city will save upwards of €250 thousand per year with the ape on duty. More than a few vendors that I spoke with hailed the move, as theft and littering have been growing concerns.  While the publicity potential for the market was not a reason (really?), we certainly are aware of its advantages.  Incidentally, this remarkable  ‘deputy’ has scored very well on the intelligence tests that are administered to all deputies.  The gorilla outperformed many veteran officers as well as new recruits. Of course his huge strength, quickness and intimation potential is a big plus in the fight against crime, though we are assured by his trainers that he will never resort to violence”
Nino Zucchini Alfredo, Mayor of Ventimiglia

“I seeya fromma my restauranti. Thissa gorilla, he issa facinata witha the Pakistani toys. You knowa, the kinda thata turna into a frieda egga when you throwa atta the sidewalk. He looka  at thissa a many times, because the doll, you know, it comma back fromma a fried egga to a dolla. Thissa funny, but I no likka thissa gorilla. Maybe he throwa somebody to the sidewalk and waita to see iffa they maka into a frieda egga. Dissa I no likka. I no likka why the policia maka him a duputia and do dissa thinga”. I donta serve himma, thissa gorilla, if he comma into my plassa”
Luigi Bambino Meatiballi, Ventimiglia restaurant owner

“I like it. I saw the primate yesterday. Exquisitely beautiful. Charming even. The eternal majesty of primordial rhythm. The sublime otherness. It’s good for Ventimiglia. It’s good for Italy. It’s good for the world. For the universe, maybe. I love this place. Life is good. I’m good. You’re good. Ya got to keep it simple. Screw complexity. Burn it. Blow it up. I’m everything and I’m nothing. Everything is nothing. I gotta tell Martin about this. Maybe a picture. Who knows. Existential message in all this. Could be big. Shame Hunter couldn’t see it. He’d have run with it big. Hunter was crazy. Gonzo crazy. I gotta go. Cut some grapes. Make some wine.  Savour some boeuf bourguignon. Some coq au vin. Fine dine. Do a gig. Shoot a reel. Do a deal. Do a line. Make more wine. Live life. Love life. I gotta go. That’s enough for today”.
Johnny Depp Actor (incognito)

“ We saw him on the bridge. It looked like he was communicating by gesturing with the Romanian concertina player. Suddenly the music stopped and we never heard it again the rest of the day. (brother, do we need that ape in Antwerp) Then he quickly turned and climbed over the balustrade and leaped some fifteen feet to the ground below. He then disappeared behind some tall shrubs. I guess to take care of his natural needs. When he reappeared, he started picking up debris of all shapes and sizes.  ‘Yeah!’ I heard a few in the crowd yell. ‘Trash left by members of another two-legged species’, somebody said. He was moving really fast, arranging it on the ground. After around fifteen minutes, we all could make out the word ‘pigs!’ in lettering a meter high. Everyone started clapping loud and long.”
Dr and Mrs Ernesto Davilo, tourists from Peru

“That’s it from Ventimiglia for now. Back to you, Chris”.

“Thanks Jason. Great job. We just received word from anonymous sources that the ape ’s acquisition and duration as a special police deputy will remain secret. Only that he will work the market on unannounced selected Fridays. It remains doubtful that this uncertainty will keep the avalanche of humanity from inundating the City by the Roya every Friday. We’ll keep you folks posted on this amazing story as details come in.  In other news….”

MARINA 2018 WINTER SOJOURN

tom briggs

Our ten day winter Marina visit was one quarter filled (don’t quote me on that, could’ve been a little over a third) with adventure, approximately one quarter misadventure and the rest filled with the usual predictable expectations. In week two, on a partly grey afternoon in Juan Le Pin, Lieve, I, Spikey and Pepie encountered, or more precisely were accosted by, a  wind storm of bad intent. Getting out of the car to face that meteorological event was a test of upper arm strength or stupidity or both.

As  palms swayed elastically, like in a cartoon, and violence besieged the slate-grey Mediterranean, we  walked, as if up a steep hill, straight into the whistling abomination towards a lunch place on the boardwalk. The wind seemed  determined to  take anything that wasn’t nailed down  (or bolted, glued, but not necessarily items affixed with Velcro tape) into a Wizard of Oz-like vortex of unknown destination. The slashing, metallic knife-like (OK, it could’ve been razor-like) waves danced crazily towards the beach and boardwalk, daring anyone fool enough to enter. The incongruous sun, seemingly observing all this, disdainfully laughed, and said “don’t look at me” while puffy, cuddly high up pinkish clouds yawned with indifference. This dichotomous meteorological  joke was on all who ventured out into the tumult.

Marina Baie Des Anges was peopled by the usual suspects, both resident and gawking anorak clad Yankee-ball-capped visitor types. Philippe and Mark, the two gays who run Lieve’s favourite eatery, the smallish quirky and garish Victoria Restaurant, were gracious as usual. Mark, the rotund one, laughs at everything. It’s all a big joke to him, lucky guy. Geeze, if they could distribute some of his laughter around the world, what a wonderfully hilarious place it would be. Hardly any time for strenuous thinking at all. The ponderous but Teddy Bear affable  Philippe creates great, simple dishes with the best and freshest ingredients, though for this New Year’s offering, the gastronomical compass curiously pointed towards Lunch Garden.

Their  New Year’s party was attended by some forty characters, (squeezed in the small joint like so many sardines) disguised as regular people. The veritable Three Penny Opera cast enjoyed the attendant hoopla celebrating, for God knows why, the New Year. Noise makers, hats, loud music, cold potatoes and chewy steak all welcomed 2018 in. Some were ‘dressed to kill’, others ‘dressed to the nines’, still others were attired in the commonest clothing, as though work-bound and  ready to board a creepy city bus or subway car. Lieve was stunningly beautiful and dressed appropriately for a much higher venue/extravaganza/soiree. Me? I was just sitting there not drinking, as usual, enjoying Lieve’s joy. That, and observing the benign madness that enveloped me.

Ventimiglia was a blustery, wintery experience, but fun as always. Lieve took many great photos there. Especially of the surfers on the Big Sur-like waves that appeared to be a few meters high. Scores of onlookers invariably messed up the best shots, though. We stayed one night at the  ironically named Calypso Hotel.  The manager/owner eyed us with suspicion as we registered. I suppose anyone talking with an American accent while his head is buried in his hood would warrant such wariness.

Of course we ate again at La Vecchia Napoli, (at the foot of the River Roya bridge) where Bruce Willis is the chef. At least that’s what Lieve calls the chef. Try to picture someone who never smiles nor blurts out three consecutive words, wears a white apron, has a bald pate that shines like a mirror, is built like a tree trunk with four thick limbs, has fingers like sausages, is usually carrying a large sharp knife while bearing  a slight resemblance to the movie star and you got it.

While going to our car to exit the municipal parking lot near the police station, we witnessed an altercation between a thirty-something Frenchman of slight to medium frame and a fiftyish Moroccan who was taller and heavier by some twenty kilos.  As the Frenchman was backing out, the Moroccan tapped his horn to avoid a rear/frontal collision. The former took offense to this perfect logic and harangued the latter with racial insults. Lieve was ready to step in between them. My feeling was let them settle it themselves. A shoving/pulling match then ensued, with the livid purple-faced Moroccan getting the better of it. This lurid entertainment only lasted a few seconds, as both Lieve and I stepped between.  We now rightfully qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize. When one considers some of the charlatans who have been honoured with that dubious award, we’re on the short list.

Recovering from a spectacle laced with international implications, we headed towards  ‘Catering’, the grocery store for restaurant owners, only a few kilometres away.  Philippe (yes, that Philippe) had asked Lieve to pick up some ‘Jambon Cru’ (I love the sound. A rock band, perhaps?) He assured her that while she couldn’t use his membership card, she didn’t need one and would only be charged an extra euro to make purchases. I waited in the car while Lieve shopped. After about twenty minutes, she returned crying. “What happened?”, I asked, as I tried to calm her. Lieve replied that she was told by store personal that she did indeed need a membership card.

She immediately called Philippe to explain the situation.  His curt response amounted to a  very convincing impersonation of a jerk and an asshole  “I’m very busy now. I haven’t got time, bye” “Don’t call me when I’m busy” A more wanton display of ingratitude we have never encountered. And from a friend.  When we arrived back at the Marina we immediately confronted him. After several minutes, his apologies started to leak out and before long turned into a veritable waterfall of remorse.  We didn’t accept his offer of a free dinner, but took him up on his whole-hearted and magnanimous offer of free drinks for the next five years.

(Just kidding)