I thought I would write this in one of my favorite cafes, a place called Le Figaro Cafe on Bleecker Street at Macdougal. I had it in my mind: the black wrought iron of the chairs, the hard, old style round seat, the marble topped tables forever wobbling atop matchbooks placed under their bases for stability….cappuccino spilling, attempts at table stabilization and every time you place an elbow on the table the mess starts again. The smell of Italian coffee beans, the inimitable aroma of a real West Village Italian cafe. I used to sit in these old places, pining after one guy or another, endless journaling over the nonsensical particulars of a misguided romance or two that I’m happy to forget. But…..I’ll never forget Le Figaro, or Speakeasy. I’ll never forget the drama of the lives lived in this neighborhood, the artistic misfits and dreamers that used to populate the streets, and the intense experiences I had in the few minutes or months I spent in their company. Because things were always fleeting, even though it felt like forever at the time. Joanne and Wendy and Chrissie and Charlie and Michelle…..Michelle was a beautiful poet and heroin addict and mother and cocktail waitress and she taught me about art on Macdougal Street when I was twenty one….in Speakeasy. Art in a sweaty, earthy sense, of living your life for it and in it at the expense of everything else. Speakeasy is gone, and I saw Michelle a few years later, when I was a waitress at Goldfinger’s and she had undergone an unforgettable transformation from a reasonably healthy heroin heroine into a completely strung out west side prostitute. She told me I should watch myself and be careful about how I choose to make my money and I never forgot her or that statement, or what she looked like when she made it. She is gone, and so is Bleecker Street. So many memories swirl in my mind on St Mark’s Place that I can barely manage a walk without a long drawn monologue on the ruination of the street, and the wealthy young people who have replaced us artists and actors, dancers and poets and musicians and dreamers…..not to mention the old Polish and Ukrainian people, the junkies and particularly particular people that rounded out the mixture. I never felt judged there, and it was a refuge as well as an affordable neighborhood to forge habits and friendships. I remember the smell of patchouli, and the sounds of reggae on Avenue A, and the way someone’s dreadlocks looked at dawn on Second Ave.
I’m sitting in a doorway in present day Soho as I write this. Eileen’s is to my left, selling cheesecake, and my son awaits on my right, ready for his soda and a walk to the East Village to buy a chocolate chip cookie from a place on 7th street very near to where I once sat, in my little rent controlled apartment at 7th and 1st Avenue. Every morning I made spice tea, and sat at my window overlooking 7th street, smoking cigarettes and thinking thoughts and dreaming of someone or something…..across the street, an old Ukrainian woman often sat in her window in her rent controlled apartment. Here and there our eyes would meet….and in my mind, it’s still there, as are all of the old things and faces and places that are imbedded deeply inside. But I know she is dead now, because that was twenty four years ago, and the reality is that it’s 2017, and good credit and income are absolute essentials on that street. So the windows are empty and now it’s time to create new memories for my son, aged 14, who is patiently waiting for his soda and a chocolate chip cookie from that new place on 7th street.