NEW YORK, NEW YORK, 1982 – New York in 1982, while a far cry from the dirtiest days of “The Deuce” was still a decayed, dangerous and outrageously thrilling city to live in. It would be years before the scrub-a-dub of Disneyfication and big money would take it’s toll, turning the city that never slept into a comfortable pair of loose-fitting chinos that were in bed by midnight.
The grinding pace, the gritty streets, the countless generations of grasping, grotesque and genuine greatness… it was exactly like “Across 110th Street,” “Prisoner of Second Avenue,” “Taxi Driver” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” all rolled into one, big synapse-bending blast, only better.
Having been enthralled equally by the New York Dolls, Gil Scott Heron, Hubert Selby and the round table at the Algonquin, your humble narrator (YHN) was too young to be frightened and too inexperienced to say no…to anything.
His first nights in the city were spent at a friend’s apt. in “LOISADA,” far from the Chelsea neighborhood where Danceteria was located and moments away from dangers not only imagined but exacerbated by the big apple.
His first night walking home from the club in the wee hours, he watched in wonder as a staggering monster hurled a metal trash can through the window of a Gypsy fortuneteller.
His second night walking home he was mugged on First, and Second Avenues. On his third night, he took a cab home and started putting one and two together.
Like any punker with a passing nod to the past and since it was only a few blocks away from the club, the Chelsea Hotel was the first choice for a residence. Not finding a room there, YHN hit the bricks and found himself in the lobby of the Allerton Hotel, just around the corner.
A single room with a shared bathing area, in a hotel in NYC! It was like being cast in a movie that you’re told will feature Mike Hammer, Neal Cassady and Fat Paulie from the Godfather, only to find it’s starring gimpy pimps, pock-marked perps and psychotic pensioners instead. It was perfect!
It was sleazy. It was filthy. It was home! A single room with a bed, bureau, two chairs, a commode, a sink & mirror and a window with nicotine stained, gauzy curtains that looked into another room six feet away.
It was where YHN decided to spend his holidays, for the first time not returning to comforts of the homestead, much to the horror and dismay of his parents.
Seriously though. Manhattan at Christmas! Holiday cheer in excelsior Sinatra and Gurl Twenty Six, Agnes De Vril.
Compared to the Kate Smith Christmas carol, quasi-catholic inquisition jive of past holidays at home, it was not a difficult decision to make by any stretch of the imagination.
YHN met Gurl Twenty Six on the seventh day of advent. She was a striking figure with geometric hair, egocentric clothes and a French accent.
She pushed her way into the sound booth one evening during a show by Bronx beat meisters E.S.G. saying that she “hated being with the crowd.” She oozed so much bad you knew that whatever happened next was gonna be very good.
It was quickly obvious that she had more money than morals and more moxie than most. After purchasing just about every illicit substance left in the club at four A.M., she dragged me to a condo her family owned near Gramercy Park where we stayed inside…for countless hours.
We spent Christmas together but it was a pins and needles kinda day. She wanted to see where YHN lived. She said she didn’t care how dirty it was and if we didn’t sleep there that night, YHN would be sleeping there every night.
Since the days of Dickens offering tours of the London slums, to the days of “swells” going up to Harlem for some dark, the rich seem to get a perverse thrill from slumming in the bowels of the citybeast. Agnes was no exception.
She was naturally randy but the combination of drugs and the mise en scene of my tawdry hotel made her into a voracious Eleni. In the early morning hours of Boxing day she peered past the curtain into the room across the way.
With a lewd grin she ripped the curtain down and with the ferocity of an on-the-brink Frances Framer, put on a peep show for the pervy creep offering Onan as he watched us.
As mentioned previously, she was wild.
After a New Year’s Eve show at Danceteria featuring Sun Ra and Don Cherry, YHN was off for a week.
Agnes was itching to see more of America so a trip was planned to visit Washington D.C. Where another devotee of dub and an old comrade of YHN did sound at the fabled 9:30 Club.
We took the train, leaving Penn Station on the last train out. It was so grown-up and super-saturated in images from every movie featuring illicit lovers on a train that YHN was already reeling and light-headed before ingesting everything Agnes offered.
In a haze, on a train, the eyes locked in windows looking into eyes looking out to the rolling world.
Near Philadelphia the homes on boaters row and the music in our Walkman teleported us into a nirvana only previously known by Rama and Sita. At least it felt like that at the time. At least there was no way then of knowing how quickly it would end.
We were both young and both generally living in extremely altered states. While in Washington, Agnes became distant. More than likely it was because of a fellow in the home we were at who was incredibly handsome and played a mean kora.
Watching her get in a taxi at Penn Station to go home was the last time YHN ever saw her. That night was also the last night he spent at the Allerton.
That is how it was and should be. Collisions of desire and unlikely bedfellowage, chains and polymers and learning to separate fact from fiction..
Gurl Twenty Six was freedom from preconceptions and very generous with everything she had. Like a punk Collete.
No chocolates were consumed in the writing of this article.
YHN George Smith is a character from “A Singular Man” who comes to New York City seemingly aloof but, secretly unprepared for all that big-city life entails. His reckless pursuit of a feminine ideal changes him in ways uncounted.
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