7 AM Sunday 21st October 2012 Nunhead Heights
Christmas Eve back in 1986 I was hanging at my local, the Great Jones Café. The Jones was the best bar in New York. I went to high school with the owners and would drink there with the young movie star Matt Dillon, who used the Jones as one of his locals. Actually, Matt Dillon hung in every bar south of 14th Street. I’m name-dropping. Sorry.
That night I was trying to keep up with my friend Ben [not his actual name] who was a proper alkie. He once he went on a binge so bad his skin turned translucent and he looked dead.
We were celebrating a good year.
He had pulled off some big boiler room penny stock scams on unsuspecting Americans and was flush. I didn’t really know they were scams at the time or so I told myself. I was working and making money. I had had few failures at that point.
A drunken English or Irish musician couple joined us. I didn’t know the difference between the English and the Irish then and didn’t care.
They must have been playing at CBGBs around the corner on the Bowery and had stumbled into the Jones. I could tell they were junkies. There were a lot of junkies in the East Village back then. Ben didn’t care. He wanted someone who got buzzed as much as he did and I wasn’t up to his speed.
The muso guy had disgusting rotten teeth and bad skin, just like I expected of an Englishman. He told me that he 29, as I was, but looked 50. And he was wearing sunglasses in the middle of night – like a schmuck. The girl was pretty but out of her head.
At closing, which came early because of Christmas, Ben offered to take the two of them to his place on Third Street to do more drinking and drugging. I had been with Ben before in this situation and knew that I would get no joy with those odds.
On the street, the English couple were all over each other and not in a good way. She called him a ‘punk’ and a ‘bum’. The dude snarled back that she was ‘old’ and a ‘slut’ and that she’d been in the hospital ‘on a drip’, almost dead. I guess from heroin but who knew.
At times she seemed desperate to get away from the guy. She would scream that she was ditching him and that it’ll be ‘their last Christmas together’. Then she’d want to know if they were going to score more drugs and be trying to kiss him.
My friend, Ben, was so drunk he tried to force his way into the Hell’s Angels club house, which he mistook for his building. It got ugly as the Angels poured out and began beating him up.
I wasn’t going to be a hero by trying to save that drunken fool from the bikers. I grabbed the couple and ushered them across the street and saved them. That is a heroic as I come.
Luckily the NYPD happened to be driving down the street, saw the fracas and calmed the Angels down. They called an ambulance for Ben and let the bikers go back to doing whatever Hells Angels do.
The English couple had gone back to war with each other, oblivious to the cops, the neighbors, everyone. They were punching and grabbing each other. Flailing and cursing. Waking the few people on the block who were asleep.
In an instant, it seemed, the police banged the three of us into the squad car and took us to the Ninth Precinct station on Fifth Street. That’s the station they used as a location for Kojak. New York is a movie set.
I was able to talk my way out of custody since I’m a middle class white guy who fears The Man. They put the dude into the holding cell off the booking desk to sober up – there was no ‘drunk tank’ – but it still wasn’t pleasant from what I could see and smell. They let his girlfriend sit it out in the booking area.
I decided I had done my part for these two losers and walked back home in the early light of Christmas, only to see some cop band playing Irish Christmas songs. New York is incredible, that way.
My maiden aunt used to say ‘You never know what goes on between couples behind bedroom doors’. She would repeat that every time my mom and dad fought. My parent fought a lot.
It’s a different time now.
We wouldn’t tolerate the kind of physical or emotional violence toward women today that the English dude showed is girlfriend. Or even what she showed him. Social workers and counselors called. Prosecutions for ‘Harrassment – Fear of Violence’ or whatever they do in New York would be made. Restraining orders issued. Who knows what else. And rightly so.
One more thing I remember. On the way into the cell I remember him crying out to his girlfriend ‘I could have been someone!’
She snapped back ‘Well, so could anyone!’
Listen to Lewis Schaffer on the Radio Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer every Monday evening at 10:30PM on www.resonancefm.com and 104.4fm London. Or listen to the show’s podcasts at bit.ly/NunheadAmericanRadio
See Lewis Schaffer live every Tuesday and Wednesday: Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous, The Source Below, 11 Lower John Street, London W1F 9TY. Come on down. Free admission. Or reserve at bit.ly/londonfreeshow