Memories

New York City 20 May 1999

[Continued from yesterday’s reminiscences about my first trip to New York City]

I woke before 6am, in the guest room of my old school-friend’s home in Old Greenwich Connecticut. I had breakfast with him and his wife. A few minutes before we were due to leave for the commuter train back to Manhattan their three children came downstairs, possibly woken me at the piano, playing the tune I usually play when there’s a keyboard in the room: “What a wonderful world”. They were due to wake up anyway to say goodbye to their dad and they gathered round the piano, wide-eyed.

My old school-friend and I left a few minutes later, drove to the station and took the train back to the city. I got out at Grand Central Station and he continued on to the Financial District. I was at our hotel before 8am and found the mood of my travelling companions rather muted. I felt refreshed, having had enough sleep, and having woken neither hungover nor still drunk from the night before. I went for breakfast with our mild-mannered drummer at the usual place, Café Gourmet on Fifth Avenue. The previous evening had not turned out well, with moodiness and arguments from our other travelling companion. I could add another new expression to those I had already encountered this week: “pissing on my chips”. There had been some incident at a bar, recounted as follows: “There I was, talking to this girl, and he just starts pissing on my chips, man.” I didn’t need too many details. I had experienced enough such incidents myself over the years.

As with the previous day we went in two groups for our day’s activities. Our mild-mannered drummer went to the Museum of Modern Art. I took a train to Queen’s with our other travelling companion to complete my triad of things to see in New York City. The previous day I had spent time at St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Chelsea Hotel and today we were going to pay our respects at the grave of Johnny Thunders, guitarist in the New York Dolls. He had spent much of his time from the late 1970s onwards in London, with his band the Heartbreakers and had died in 1993. He was buried in one of the large graveyards in Flushing. We took the subway to Queen’s and then hired a black cab which took us to the grave, waited while we spent time at the grave, and then took us back to Greenwich Village. These black cabs operate under different rules from the yellow cabs of Manhattan. They can drive into Manhattan but are forbidden from picking up fares there.

We were due to meet an old university friend of mine at a restaurant in the Village. It was closed and we wandered around trying to find an alternative place. In those days before I had a tri-band phone there was no way of contacting him but we found him outside a nearby restaurant, accompanied by another old university friend I hadn’t seen for many years. I enjoyed our chat. We had a lot to catch up on. The atmosphere was rather clouded by the moodiness of my travelling companion, still affected by the fuss from the night before. There was trouble brewing, which turned into a rant and a rave later that evening. Of all the people I have been friends with he has probably been the most troublesome, and we don’t hang out any more. A long time ago I gave up discussing, in any detail, what his problems might be, despite a lot of questioning, from a lot of people, over many years. I would simply refer them to that classic episode of “Fawlty Towers”, “The Psychiatrist”, which all of my contemporaries are familiar with. Towards the end of the show, having seen Basil Fawlty’s behaviour plumb new depths, the psychiatrist observes, “There’s enough material there for an entire conference”.

That evening we met up with one of the girls from New Jersey we had met in Rome, and had also met for lunch the previous Saturday. We had dinner in the Village, at a place called Time. She headed back to New Jersey and two of us headed back to Rocky Sullivan’s one last time. That’s where the ranting, the raving, the trouble that had been brewing all day, spilt out. That’s how some people are. You put up with it for years, because you’ve known them for years, but if you’re lucky you’ll get out before any real damage is done. The evening passed without violence, but not peacefully. “There’s enough material there for an entire conference.” We stayed at Rocky’s till 1.30am and were back at the hotel just before 2am.

The story continues here.

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