Chapterette 10 – O
The first order of business was to check out of the Hustler Hotel and move to less intimidating accommodations. Our new hotel was just a few blocks away but a world of difference. What it lacked in professional con men lurking about the colorful cast of characters staying there provided nonstop entertainment. Travelers from all over the world were coming and going, everyone seemed to be involved in some aspect of self-preservation. Some were on the lam and hiding from their past others were seeking a feasible path to the future. Everyone had a secret story and living on the edge of survival. For example, a young American girl would burst into our room and frantically ask us to hide mysterious bundles and packets for her. The items were tightly wrapped so we didn’t know the content and she didn’t bother to tell us. Fatima, the little old Moroccan lady who was employed as the maid, saw and knew everything that went down in her hotel. She warned us not to trust the “American” girl. Fatima would scold us, “She bad person”. This “bad” American girl also warned us not to trust anyone! It was like living in a house filled with scamps and scoundrels. So, one morning the American girl swooped into our room, hastily gathered up her hidden treasures and vanished. No one ever saw her again! As I was implying the hotel was occupied by the full spectrum of humanity lending to a unique ambiance where “Beat” meets the new wave of counter culture revolutionaries the “Hippy”. I had this pervasive feeling that at any time I could very well bump into the likes of William S. Burroughs in the foyer.
We dedicated the next couple of days to exploring this mysterious and wonderfully wacky city. We wandered through the narrow streets eventually winding up on a hill overlooking the sprawl of a densely packed city. We had a panoramic view from our vantage point. To the west lay the expanse of the royal blue Atlantic Ocean. Looking north across the Straights, Spain and the looming Rock of Gibraltar seemed like a stones’ throw away. And to the East the silver shimmer of the Mediterranean Sea sparkled in the sun light. This was one of our favorite spots to smoke the last of our hash. Paralyzed by the view, we sat and gazed for hours. On our last night in Tangier before the ship was to arrive, we decided to celebrate and splurge on a whim. We heard about a restaurant and nightclub that featured “Bellydancing”. Intrigued by the notion we found the place in an obscure alleyway and entered into a dark smoke filled and kind of seedy room with candle lit tables. Spliced into a corner a small stage draped with old tapestries sat empty. We claimed an empty table near the stage and ordered a vegetarian couscous dish. While we were sipping on mint tea a handful of musicians started to filter on to the stage. I noticed a rather roguish looking man sitting at an adjacent table keeping a watchful eye on us. I gave him a nod and a smile. He reciprocated by reaching into his man bag, filled a pipe with kief torched it and handed it to me. I did the prudent thing and accepted his hospitality. I smoked the whole bowl and handed it back to him empty. This gesture pleased him into a wide grin. In Morocco it is considered proper etiquette to return a pipe empty otherwise you risk offending the one who offered the pipe in good faith. Returning a less than empty pipe meant you didn’t like the kief, an insufferable insult. He then refilled the pipe and handed it to Dutch who also handed it back empty. He shook our hands and said something in Arabic that we didn’t understand but it seemed to be cordial in nature. Ah, our dinner arrived we were starving especially after a bowl of kief. Our new friend had a whole chicken with all the fixins set before him. He devoured the meal in a matter of minutes kind of like a hungry honey badger. The chicken carcass was then thrown to the floor. A cat darted out from a dark recess, grabbed the chicken remains and whisked it back to its’ lair. I then noticed other cats leaping out from dark corners and doing the same thing at other tables. What a simple but effective way to recycle and dispose of waste. The cats had a dual purpose; they served as the garbage collectors and their very presence kept the rats at bay. How organic.
The musicians began to play and the sound of finger cymbals rang out from behind the stage curtain. Oh boy, Dutch and I were almost breathless in anticipation. A slender willowy figure appeared from the stage curtain dancing in a sensual but not provocative manor. The men in the audience gave a rousing round of approving applause. We got caught up in the excitement and enthusiastically joined in with the revelry. I became mesmerized by the dancer’s confident undulations so soft and smooth but with a subtle hint of masculinity. Upon closer inspection, to my jaw dropping surprise, the lithe dancer was a young boy maybe fourteen or fifteen years of age. Females were forbidden to dance in public, for that matter women had few freedoms. But, young males could impersonate their female counterpart. There is some irony in this custom. Anyway, I so enjoyed a little slice of the Tangier nightclub scene. I was especially grateful for the introduction to Arabic music and dancing which would in the future become an integral part of my life.
The nest morning we received some discouraging news; the freighter which was due to arrive later that day was expected to be delayed for up to a week. Fucking Hell!! We just exhausted our slush fund on a frivolous outing and now found our selves in a pickled predicament; a scarcity of money for another week of hotel rent. Sleeping on the streets in Tangier was not a viable option. The time had come to shift down into survival mode and try my hand at street hustling. I had an extra pair of Levi’s that still had a faint odor leftover from the Black Flag incident in Barcelona. I snatched them up and ran down to a busy intersection where I stood on a doorstep, held the jeans up high and began to yell, “Hot pants, get your hot pants here”! A crowd quickly developed and a bidding war broke out. Western clothing of any kind was expensive and hard to come by. American blue jeans and especially Levi’s were coveted by the young. They indeed were a hot item to be cool. While the bidding grew heated I noticed a new white Mercedes with all the windows blacked out pull up to the curb. The back window rolled down just enough to view the scene I was causing. I returned my attention to the bidding which had run its’ course. I sold my pants to the highest bidder a teenage boy who was over joyed with his purchase. I collected my money and was ready to leave when a burly looking man dressed in a black suit and tie jumped out of the Mercedes and approached me. What the fuck! My first instinct was to run but where to? He handed me some money and pointing to the Mercedes said, “For you from him”. I could only see a pair of eyes staring out of the slightly lowered window. I gave a grateful wave and received a peace sign in return. The window rolled up, the driver got back in and sped off with my unknown benefactor. Holy shit! I had just been handed about ten dollars from whoever was in that car, royalty perhaps? Anyway, that act of charity coupled with the proceeds from the sale of my Levi’s, I could contribute my share of the rent and have enough left over to eat well.
With my windfall tucked away I eagerly headed back to tell Dutch about the small fortune I just inherited. A young boy no more than twelve years old strolled up and joined in with my brisk pace. He introduced himself and started talking with me in surprisingly good English. “You want to buy some hash, it is very good shit”, he boasted. I explained that I couldn’t afford to buy hash, which was the truth because the cash in my pocket was earmarked for rent and food. Besides, we still had enough opium to tide us over. The boy grabbed my arm and ordered, “Here, come with me”. He led me through a restaurant to a secluded private room. “Sit, sit” he instructed. He reached into his pouch and produced a huge slab of dark hash. The boy then slammed the slab down on the table and asked, “What can you pay for this shit”? I again told him I couldn’t afford to buy at this time. “Ok, ok, we make trade, ok”, he countered. “Give me your belt” he demanded. I gave him the belt. He then asked for my leather pouch including all the paraphernalia in it. Done! “Ok, good trade”, he confirmed and pushed the slab of hash to me. He shook my hand and escorted me out of the restaurant. He parted with, “I see you later, ok”. I almost skipped to the hotel. I not only had enough money for rent and food but I was also in possession of a chunk of hash that would sustain us well into the near future.
Finally the ship arrived in Tangier only about three weeks behind schedule. No matter, we were reluctantly ready to return to the United States. There was no way one could have foreseen the incredibly unbelievable voyage we were about to embark upon.