13 February 2014

After five hours in St. Louis airport we finally took off three and a half hours late, delayed by bad weather. On the plane the purser  announced, ‘No smoking in a lavatories. If you’re found smoking, you’d better be on fire!’ Some people laughed. It stopped the bad humour. I returned to New York for just one night stopover, so I was able to see a few old friends: Jeff Goldberg and Stewart Meyer, who brought along doctors Ira Jaffe and Dr Gross. Ira in many ways saved William Burroughs’s life by getting him on the methadone programme back in the early eighties. Burroughs was scoring for street heroin and it was clear that the situation could not last: at some point he would be badly mugged / he would be poisoned / he would overdose by being too confident in his own capacity. Bill was on the programme for the rest of his life, another 17 years or so.  The other doctor, Dr Gross, was Harry Smith’s friend, who I had not seen since Hotel Chelsea days. He was the doctor to the Beat Generation: Bill Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg on occasion, virtually the entire population of the Chelsea. It was good to see that he was still alive and picky about his food. I went first to Stew’s place, which has the old time feel of a Beat New York pad about it. We walked around to Pete’s Tavern, still there since 1864. Snow on the ground, past the fancy ironwork of the buildings on Gramercy Park; old New York. New York to me is an old city. I’ve been going there since 1967 so each street has memories, addresses of friends and lovers, where bookshops once ran, clubs once operated, artists had studios. I’ve seen buildings deteriorate and I’ve seen them get spruced up. Some old favourites have been demolished or badly vandalized so so-called ‘developers’. Most artistic or counter-culturally minded people are being forced out of Manhattan by the high rents these days, only some of the older ones have long leases or have managed to get a rent controlled apartment. It was a pleasant evening at a round table of memories of old friends now dead, with Stew telling his hilarious, yet scary mobster stories and Jeff funny as ever in adversity. It felt like I was living there.

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