New York City has been bled of out-of-towners with a merciless fury. Work that was once abundant for the young dries up, as your age passes 40. Successful friends move out of your pay bracket and your old slot has been replaced by twenty year-olds willing to work for less.
Faced with faltering income expectations middle-age men and women look beyond the borders of the five boroughs and contemplate the nostalgia of home. Many succumb to the siren's song of a town distanced by decades. Like Old Moses says in THE SEARCHERS, “All I want is a rocking chair.”
This simple desire is achievable far from New York and last month I heard that a good female friend, her husband, and two teenage children were setting out for California.
"So you're going back home." Our conversation was over the phone.
"Back to my roots." She had left the West Coast in 1993.
"What about one last night on the town." I invited her to the Mudd Club / Club 57 reunion in late October.“I don’t have time for that.” Garette wasn’t in the mood to see old friends.
“I understand. The West is calling.” I looked out the window of my top-floor apartment in Fort Greene. The sun was setting to beyond the low skyline. Summer had given way to autumn. The trees were losing to the color yellow. Winter was coming early this year.
“Agora.” Her hometown lay on the dry side of the Santa Monica Mountains. The TV show MASH had been filmed below her house. I knew the vista well from having visited her family there more than once during my 1995 stay in Southern California.
“Give my best to your brothers.” We had surfed El Matador and Ventura. They were the tallest white men above Santa Monica. I liked them a lot.
“I don’t talk with them anymore.” Garette said and then added, “My brothers abused me as a kid.”
"Oh." I didn’t have to ask how. Garette’s mom had eight kids. They were as wild as feral cats. I thought sex, but it was worse.
"They beast me."
“I never hit a woman like that.” I answered without thinking about the past.
“What about the time you hit your girlfriend in Paris. That 17 year-old model.” Garette and I had met at the Bains-Douches in the summer of 1984. We were just friends. No one believed that, especially not her husband.
“Candia.” I had entered our Rue Danzig apartment to find the Puerto Rican teenager with her Italian boyfriend. One punch dropped him into the kingdom of whimpers. Candia slapped at my fists. My fingers unfolded to open palms. Red murder flooded my blood. “I didn’t hit her. I threw her on the bed.”
“Are you sure?” Women have better memories than men. “What about whipping them out of the apartment with a ripped telephone wire. Naked into a snow storm.”
“I was a flurry.” Flakes had fallen softly as volcanic ash. The still beauty must have been lost on their unclothed flesh and bare feet. I remember feeling that they gotten off easy. Paris was part of France. The courts would have understood a crime of passion. Even a double murder was forgivable before the judge.
“So don’t tell me that you’ve never hit a woman.” The phone clicked off and my ear was glad that people weren't able to slam the receiver of a cell phone.
Garette was right. I had scourged Candia and her young boyfriend into the wintery night and other woman had answered to my fury.
My older brother and I had chucked rocks at a family of eight sisters for ascendancy of our neighborhood south of Boston. They never beat up another boy.
As a hippie I had picked up my youngest sister from a Wollaston Beach bowling alley twenty minutes late.
“I hate you.” Her tirade scorched my ears on the drive through the Blue Hills.
Inside our split-level ranch house she said something so despicable that I threw a Frye boot at her. It missed her head by inches and dented the steel door to the garage. What she said was forgotten.
So I really didn’t hit her, but two other women were on the list.
Alice had disappeared with the band Shrapnel for over an hour. I found her in the alley behind CBGBs. She smiled at me, as if I were stupid to have worried about her. Nothing had happened between her and the band, but that smile earned her a slap. I don’t recall ever apologizing, but Alice and I stayed together, until I left her for Lisa.The blonde model from Buffalo was as beautiful and cold as a Swedish movie starlet.
We lived in London together the autumn of 1978. The studio was next to Chelsea football pitch. She modeled with David Bailey, while I wandered the wet streets thinking the worst. The next winter she flew to Europe seeking fame and fortune on the runaways of Paris and Milan. Lisa vanished within a month. She called me at summer’s end to pick up her things.
"Why did you leave me?" I asked her as she got in a waiting taxi.
“Sometimes you don’t get all the answers.” Lisa sneered at me, as if she was getting revenge for something else someone else had done to her.
"No answer." I snapped and kicked her ass with enough force to propel her inside the taxi.
“Fuck you.” She slammed the door shut and the taxi drove her out of my life forever, then again she was already out of it.
Garette was right. The only difference between me and a woman-killer was the length of my rage. I could have killed Candia without any reservation. Kicking Lisa had come natural and slapping Alice happened faster than a rattlesnake fanging a desert mouse.
All three incidents were decades ago, but later that day I googled Lisa. Her last name was too common to find.
Candia was in a sisterhood down the south of France. They didn’t believe in modern technology.
The only one to whom I could say sorry was my hillbilly girlfriend. Alice would be attending both events. I would be doing the same.I rehearsed my apology before the mirror in my apartment.
Men had been beating women for time immemorial.
Cavemen supposedly clubbed women and dragged them by their hair into slavery.
There was no foreplay involved with the rape of the Sabine Women.
I stood accused of a crime and only forgiveness could help me forget my sins.
Alice was too busy at the first night’s reunion on Avenue A for a conversation. She was still a star and I was just another old boyfriend. Our friends regaled each other with tales from the 1980s. I gathered everyone for a group photo. Alice was going out to dinner with a famous painter. We once had lived around the corner on East 10th Street. Alice was still beautiful. I had been a fool to leave her, then again I had been a fool about a lot of other things.
Morning found me alone in my bed. I wasn't too hung over and soaked in my bath for a good hour. The razor slid over my face. I wanted to look good tonight.
Several film makers had contacted me for interviews.
I had worked every night at the Mudd Club the month of August 1981 to pay for my sister's wedding present. Mostly I had hung out at the downstairs bar listening to music.
SEX MACHINE by James Brown had been my favorite and the DJ played it once a night.
The reunion was at a bar next to the Williamsburg Bridge. I arrived early to avoid paying a cover.
The only time I had purchased a ticket at the Mudd Club was for the Marianne Faithful show. Teh price was $10. Her voice cracked on BROKEN ENGLISH. The concert was cut short by a hail of beer cans aimed not at the singer, but Steve Mass the owner. Everyone wanted a refund. Steve didn’t give back a dime.
"You don't come here for the music. You come here to be you." Steve shouted at us. He was right. At the Mudd Club Joey Arias, Klaus Nomi, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Anita Sarko, Richard Boch, Anya Phillips, James Chance, Michael Holman, and countless others were the stars of nights fueled by sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Not all of us made it.
I was more unknown than known, but nearly twenty years later as I sat down on the garden rooftop for an interview about those years, passing party-goers stared at me, as if they had known me. I didn’t think that I had changed that much, then again I stopped looking in the mirror after the age of 50.
“I only look at my shadow,” I told the interviewer along with the story of ordering Alice to turpentine a Jean Michel painting off our refrigerator. I could have sold it ten years ago for a million. “I was so smart.”
I had thought that I was going to make something of my life. The drugs, the drinks, the late hours, and the sex had cut into my body and soul. I was lucky to be alive and found myself sitting with Alice.
She was as sweet as the first day I met her through our now dead friends, Andy Reese and William Lively. We entertained a throng of onlookers with our remembrances. Michael Holman joined us to explain the separation of fun at the Mudd Club versus Club 57.
“They were art and fun and we were sex and drugs.”
I didn’t beg to differ and after the camera stopped rolling I asked Alice for a second.
"What is it?" She was nervous, as if I was going to ask her to sleep with me.
“I want to apologize for hitting you behind CBGBs. It was wrong.”
“You really scared me and I probably should have left you right then, except I wasn’t brought up that way.” Her family from West Virginia was like mine from Maine; LEAVE IT TO BEAVER on the outside and a John Waters film on the inside.
“I wish I had never done it.” My excuse was that I had been worried about her, but that had been an excuse.
“Me too. But that was a long time ago.” Alice smiled with forgiveness and excused herself.
"Yeah." She had done me a favor and I did her one by ending our conversation on the matter.
I went to the bar, convinced that I was no Ted Bundy, the mass murderer, but neither was I a saint. Most men are simply something in between good and bad, which wasn’t such a horrible thing to be in this day and at my age.
Old men never look good angry, but they get better looking with an apology.As long as they really meant it.