We’ll Always Have Paris

What was that line Bogie tossed at Ingrid Bergman to get her to run off with that dapper old guy at the end of Casablanca? Oh yeah: ”We’ll always have Paris.” I guess he was right, as there doesn’t seem to be an end to how much Clubland loves to associate with the romanticism of gay old Paree. Everybody is on the edge of their seat for Le Baron, which somebody told me will be “The Baron” when it slams into lower Mulberry Street. Indeed it will slam, as young romantics everywhere see it as the second coming. It’s actually the third coming, as they already have one in Paris and Tokyo, too.

Tonight I’m invited to Hotel Chantelle, which seems to be another grab at the era. It, too, resides south of Delancy, as nightlife continues to scrape around in every corner left in our uncooperative metropolis. I’m attending at the invitation of Tim Spuches, who is a gentleman, possibly a scholar, and one of the most enigmatic creatures of the night. I’m also going to Chris Anthony’s birthday there on Thursday.

Chris is a promoter-type who’s aging very well. He seems to be a person to watch, as he is traveling in better circles and has acquired a strength and confidence that compliments his Gary Cooper-like charms and demeanor. I often find him reading books in chic downtown coffee shops while others of his ilk are jamming up cell phones calling models and their compadres. I see him possibly rising above the rest, a bridge between the good-looking and the smart set. Hotel Chantelle intrigues me. I went to Tim Spuches’ Facebook page and got this: “A little hotel on the wrong side of Delancey, on a quiet corner of Ludlow in a drab and squat building. The hotel bar lies behind an unmarked door. Once inside, ask the bartender for a blackberry bramble.”

Yesterday, I spent 6 hours in an old, cold Volvo with location scouts and gals around town Karliin Brooks and Jenny Dembrow. Karliin and Jenny were “original club kids” who have grown out of their rambunctious youths and live productive lives. Both work everyday but still find time for those in need. Karliin spends her free time and money saving animals that are abandoned and need homes. She was constantly on her cell phone with her “dog nanny” and the rescue vet. The cold weather had her worried about animals on the streets. Jenny, formerly the notorious Jennytalia, toils at the Lower East Side Girls Clubs, where she makes a difference everyday in the lives of the young ladies who find support there. On the road trip up to Coxsakie Prison, I drove while they saved small bits of the world. We, of course, were off to see former club wizard in exile, Michael Alig .

It’s been 14 years since Michael’s tragic career path ended the life of Angel Melendez. Although I’m a dedicated supporter of Michael, I’ve also been a sharp critic of him when his path has strayed from rehabilitation. He was recently turned down in his bid for freedom, and must now be up there for at least another year, maybe more. Although that news hit him hard, he has found new vigor and is dedicated to doing all the right things to prepare himself for a productive life amongst us. I don’t know how he does it. 14 years in a place very unlike Paris, or any civilized community, and he still remains bright and optimistic.

His legendary creative mind focused on writing and art and his post-prison career path. I told him that every time I write about him, I get a handful of anonymous comments cursing him and generally spewing hate. He asked what they were saying. I summed up the detractors feelings with “They think that killing Angel is something you should be continuously punished for, and what would Angel’s mother feel about you getting out, and that you haven’t paid a big enough price.” He surprised me by saying, “They’re right.” He said that he can never undo what was done, but will strive to be a productive person when he is finally released, and that he lives with the horror. He is genuinely remorseful.

We left having gorged ourselves on vending machine pretzels and soda and Yoo Hoos. On the way home, we stopped at my favorite secret spot, Auntie El’s, in Sloatsburg, New York. Auntie El’s is the ultimate country roadside stand. I picked up an old Banger (cash register) that I had bought over the summer for Snap. It was sitting there, weighing about 150 pounds for months, waiting to be brought to glory. I wondered about its career path. How many bars, how much loot had it seen? It’s a beauty, all worked metal and marble and mechanical keys. While there, we grabbed famously tasty pies and preserves and pickled stuff. There was some left when we hit New York.

It was indeed Monday, which is Bingo night at Bowery Poetry, and then off to Veselka to celebrate our small victories. As I enjoyed late night laughs and belly warming fare among friends with my Amanda, I felt like the luckiest man in the world. It seemed a bit silly finding such happiness in such a joint, eating soup as we cut up one of Auntie El’s pies. Veselka isn’t swanky and it was a long exhausting day. The soup was warming away the cold from my toes and heart. I had awoken at 6am, drove 300 miles there and back. I had sat amongst felons all day as memories haunted me. My mind wandered over decades, reliving the past, glorious, and dangerous, facing my abyss, loves lost, dreams fulfilled, shattered, fulfilled, rinse and repeat.

I was up in Coxsakie for my poor lost friend. Maintaining a stiff upper lip all day can be heavy lifting. To some it seems my acorn has fallen far from my tree. There was a time when I had “more stuff,” ate at chicer places, had famous friends. Was I happy back in the day being that guy, or blessed now being the guy who used to be Steve Lewis? It had been a very long, cold, arduous day. The echoes of my life’s trials and tribulations were distracting me from our hearty party. Amanda caught my “drift” and said, “What?” I replied, “We’ll always have Paris,” and she didn’t quite understand, but sort of did. She grasped my arm and put her head on my shoulder. We silently counted our blessings, running out of digits, using hands and toes.

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