It is 10:23 am on a Sunday. A multitude of songbirds are calling out in the pine forest that surrounds my house. I have just exercised the dog. I am now contemplating what it is that I should do today.
It is rarely a good idea to jones after or romanticize a lamentable and at times sordid past history of alcohol abuse if not dependence, but… fifty years ago, on a day just like today, I would probably just be waking up, or rather, coming to — head pounding from a major katzenjammer after a Saturday night of hard drinking at the Bells of Hell, a couple of blocks west of my furnitureless studio apartment on University Place and 13th Street. (If you click on the previous link, you’ll find a good thumbnail sketch of the Bells, which essentially was a watering hole for British expats. I am the “Anonymous” who posted a comment that summarizes what the experience was like for me, in those days, and what it felt like years later.)
Most likely I would splash some Tabac on my face, to disguise the smell of the booze on the clothes I had slept in the night before on a thin, department-store mattress. This pongy number rested directly on the carpet-free parquet floor of the apartment, next to a broken mirror (see pic below). I’d walk to the West Village and have a five dollar brunch — usually Eggs Benedict and a vodka Bloody Mary with extra Tabasco — at the Elephant and Castle, which had just opened.
I might be furtively joined by a young woman, a gorgeous Jewish blonde banker who was married to a bisexual Sabra furrier who liked to hold coke parties and play around. I will calll her Nicole (not her real name, obviously). Nicole lived near Barneys, on 7th Avenue and 17st, which is where she first seduced me one of those occasions when her husband was away on some supposed business trip on Fire Island We both worked at Chase, in the New York Plaza building at the tip of Manhattan, and she was very beautiful and also very available.
The day would probably progress to a nooner, with some mild bondage thrown in for good measure (her idea, not mine, as she took particular pleasure in having her unbelievably lovely derriere spanked before engaging in contortionistic sex), after which Nicole would return to her place, and I would probably take a nap before going back to the Christopher Street area, & most likely commence the more serious drinking of the day at the Lion’s Head, aka The Head, where genuine writers, as well their accompanying remora, the literary poseurs, such as myself, would mingle with increasingly repetitive results, as the pints accumulated and conversation got progressively louder as the swaying bodies were packed more tightly at the smoke-filled bar and the barkeep became increasingly sullen and the repartee became noticeably less sparkling as the night wore on and the pile of petitioning notes on the bar in front of each drunkard whittled down to a few desultory wet singles, until running a tab became the only solution, the only way to keep going, unless nicking a tenner while no one was looking produced salvation, and the ones who had actually had books published left the place, biatches in tow, while the failed writers and the writer wannabes stayed on, with no place to go, aware that greatness or immortality or access to golden pussy would never be theirs, let alone finding an agent for their shitty, unfinished manuscripts, brooding over this incessantly, the unfinished manuscripts, the absence of girlfriends, the lack of a steady job, the horrible suspicion that they didn’t have the talent for doing the only thing in life they ever aspired to do, as the silences between their sips became uncomfortably long, and now in the bar mirror, why there’s Malcolm Lowry, lurking in the doorway, good old Malc, grinning as usual, what would sad if not sadder Markson, or better yet, Conrad think of this late stage infantile apparition?
I took off whenever overt sentimentality and crying in your beer time descended, and they started singing Will Ye Go Lassie Go, while holding back those Celtic-adjacent tears — always promising myself that the story I would, eventuially, write about the Bells would be titled Whenever You’re Ready, which, as it turned out, I never was.
The night would probably end late, with a double Dewars on the rocks nightcap at the Cedar Tavern, only a couple of blocks down on University Place from where I lived. More often than not, the owner would get tanked and ride his Harley into the bar itself. No one would be surprised by this, though the smell of the tailpipe exhaust fumes was downright awful, and the night would end morosely, and if I was drinking alone, with some radom pretty boy making eyes at me and suggesting that the night was still young and that he was open for anything.
That would be the signal to finally call it an evening, I had only a few hours to go before I had to take the 6 down to South Ferry and be at my desk by 9am, where I would of course again see Nicole. Depending on how toasted I was, I would or would not decide to climb atop the George Washington statue in Union Square before going home, just for the hell of it. I could never do this today; but then, I could manage it even when rightly and completely intoxicated.
That is how I lived in my early twenties; and I enjoyed the life immensely.
Nowadays, I find that the pleasure I take in life has diminished, and the things I do enjoy doing never seem to be done with any sense of exultation. This is the cost of getting older.
It’s all very low key, and ever so responsible, and so completely dull and unexciting. The very pleasure in being alive has perceptibly dimmed, and the thrill of my salad days of wild drinking nights and achingly beautiful Nicoles has long since vanished.
After I take care of business up in NY in a few weeks, I am going to seriously think about what I want to do next — before it becomes too late to do things like, say, go island hopping in the Mediterranean.
Sitting around in an increasingly catatonic state for the rest of my days in some big villa in South Florida with my GSD and listening to the cui cui of the cardinals while staring blankly out my window most certainly won’t cut it.
Life needs to be lived, even at my advanced age. Peter Myers, who founded the Bells of Hell, is now retired and living in England. So oddly coincidental that me late Mum ended up buying Cornish Pasties from his shop on Hudson Street, when she was a member of the Daughters of the British Empire in New York, and wanted him to cater their events.
His partner, Tony Heyes, has also passed.
Mick Jagger, who used to drop in from time, has become a farcical parody of himself, as has Keith. I doubt anyone boozily sings the Ray Davies’ sinner anthem, Demon Alcohol, in any downtown dive bars anymore; the Kinks were big at the Bells.
Even the Cafe Loup, the milquetoast successor to the Bells, is gone.
The world has moved on, though America in all her wisdom is preparing for an upcoming Presidential that will likely be dominated by two geriatrics.
But I’m still around.
And feel there is something improbably fantastic that still needs to happen in my life.
Just losing weight and making it to 72 this summer is not enough, not in my book.
But what is that mysterious thing that I still need to do, the one true thing — after a lifetime of boozy self deception — which will allow me tell myself: ah yes, lad, you can finally turn the page now, at last, and kick back — now that there’s no unfinished business left?