|Pleased to meet you...|
Last week I wrote of the Oakland show Charlie and I attended and it's been on my mind sporadically since. I realized the Stones were in peak form that night as they began "Sympathy for the Devil." The intro sounded more tribal than I've ever heard it performed before, permeated with menace. It stands as my favorite experience of hearing them live. When I was a kid it was a cool-sounding song, but the lyrics were really a bit beyond my comprehension- they hinted at things I just hadn't experienced in life- and wouldn't for some time.
Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste...
My first visit to New York City was in 1992. On the Saturday night I was there I went to see Miss Saigon and during the intermission I met a woman with whom I dined after the show. We had a long, leisurely meal and conversed about theater, New York, and the perils of childhood celebrity. She told amusing and tawdry anecdotes about her youth and her peers, many of which were enormously entertaining.
Later that night after we parted, I went down to the Village in search of a piano bar and ended up at Arthur's tavern, which wasn't very crowded. Al Bundy was playing that night. The place had a horseshoe-shaped rail around the piano, and I was seated opposite Bundy.
A short time later two men strode in, both impeccably dressed. One looked to be in his late 20's, perhaps early 30's, Latino, handsome and well-groomed. The other easily in his 50's, a faintly regal air about him, hawk-nosed, sharp eyes, an impressive head of hair. He wore the most gorgeous overcoat I had ever seen. I think it was black cashmere.
They sat down to my left and in a short time we were engaged in a convivial conversation. The younger man was Cuban, the older Bulgarian. They had previously met in Miami and were now on a first date weekend. Their names were Carlos and Augustin.
After another half hour or so, only a couple of other people had come into the bar and the three of us were pretty much the only lively patrons. Augustin, the Bulgarian, abruptly broke the thread and asked me if I'd like to accompany them to another club. I declined, saying this would be my last stop of the night. We chatted on a bit, and then he asked me again if I would like to join them. Again I declined, and the conversation carried forward.
Augustin made one more attempt, this time adding they had a lovely car to ride around in. Carlos leaned over to me and assured me I would truly enjoy the car. It wasn't that I'm a car enthusiast so much as a growing curiosity about where this all might lead which led me to agree to join them. I'd never met anyone quite like these two.
"Drago! Warm up the car!" Augustin barked to no one I could see in his thick accent, which gave every word an extra syllable and consonant.
I hadn't noticed him before- he must have been behind a curtain or something- but suddenly this incredibly tall man who looked somewhat like Dolph Lundgren impersonating the Addams Family butler appeared before us wearing the whole ensemble- cap, long coat with epaulets and piping, gloves- it was ridiculously fantastic. He nodded at Augustin and without saying a word headed for the door.
As Drago was outside warming up the car, we put on our coats. Carlos again assured me I would enjoy the car. He said it was a very special car.
Stepping outside, there it was, parked in the street, gleaming. I helplessly smiled, then laughed. There stood Drago in all his finery, holding open the rear door of an old Rolls Royce.
"This is the car?" I asked, not knowing what else to say.
"Yes," beamed Carlos.
"Do get in, please," said beckoned Augustin.
Carlos got in first, I followed, and the Rolls' owner behind me. We all sat in a row on the back seat, I was in the middle. It was my first time in a Rolls (and so far, my only time). It smelled like a leather bakery. Everything was immaculately polished. It looked like it had just come off a showroom floor.
"This is a 1955 Rolls Royce Silver Dawn and I only furnish it with things from the year 1955," Augustin said with relish as he opened the bar and spread his hand before the contents, "that includes the liquor and the music."
He took three crystal glasses from their designated place and laid them with precision on an inlaid tray. He suddenly seemed quite sober. Carlos leaned over to me and said, "Beautiful, isn't it? He picked me up from the airport in this. I couldn't believe it."
I couldn't believe it myself.
Some music started playing- I think it was Sarah Vaughan. Drago pulled away from the club and we starting cruising through the streets of the Village, chatting away. Augustin handed me a business card. It was the kind that folded, with lots of embossing on the front, which bore a crest and something in Cyrillic script, with the name of his eponymous foundation underneath in Roman. I opened it and read the addresses in Sofia, Paris, and New York and thought to myself who the hell is this guy?
My host suddenly faced forward and said languidly "Drago, take us to the Spike."
A look of brief alarm crossed over Carlos' eyes and the name of the place set off a bell in the back of my brain. Soon I noticed we were driving along the waterfront. Before I left for the City people had assured me New York was perfectly safe- "just stay away from the waterfront at night," everyone said, and now we were driving along it headed toward the Spike, which certainly didn't sound as cheery as Arthur's Tavern. I noticed the buildings and streets started to look deserted and empty. Then up ahead I saw a crowd on the street and a lone light bulb suspended above a dingy-looking place. We pulled up in front of a leather bar.
Augustin almost bounded out the door of the car when Drago opened the door for him, and he followed his driver to the rear of the car as he opened up the trunk. When Carlos and I got out Augustin was removing his overcoat, followed by the coat of his suit, and handed them to Drago, who placed them carefully in the trunk. Drago then lifted a fringed, black leather jacket from the trunk of the car and assisted Augustin in putting it on. He looked ridiculous, but his face bore a distinct look of satisfaction.
Carlos whispered in my ear, "This isn't my thing. Let's have one drink and then I'll get us a cab- I'm sorry about this- I'll give you a lift anywhere you need to go."
"Shall we, gentlemen?" our host asked, escorting us through the nasty-looking throng gathered in front of the bar's scuzzy entryway.
I won't describe the interior- it was too dark and grimy to be even amusing. A large percentage of the clientele looked either ill, desperate, or angry, in many instances a combination of all three in equal proportions. I noticed the bandannas right away.
We walked up to the bar, behind which stood a dead ringer for Mr. T.. Augustin immediately gave him an attitude, which was returned in spades. I thought there was going to be a fight, which would have easily been a massacre- Augustin was no match for this guy at all, but that didn't stop him from jerking his chain non-stop from moment he spoke to him, every word soaked in derision.
Carlos told Augustin he wanted to leave.
"Just one drink!" Augustin protested.
Carlos moped, then ordered. "I can't stay here- I hate this scene," he said to me.
Feeling stuck, not really knowing what to do, and at a loss for something, anything to talk about, I asked Augustin what the bandannas meant.
And did I regret that. He gave me the entire rundown, illustrating what each color meant by singling out someone in the bar and then describing in great detail what he was seeking, announced by the color his of bandanna. He finally turned his attention to a thin, pale, very sick-looking young man, a boy really, who leaned up against a post while a bear attempted to maul him. Augustin then described in explicit detail, a certain glee underneath his sadistic leer, of what he was going to do to the young man. And that was really it for Carlos, who grabbed me by the arm and escorted me out into the night, straight into a cab, back to Midtown. Along the way he apologized profusely and asked if I was free the next day. I said I had plans, which was true, but even if I didn't, I would have said the same. As we said farewell to one another, he handed me his business card. Carlos was a doctor. I wished him well for the rest of the weekend.
Augustin, this one's for you. You are indeed a man of wealth and taste, with a penchant for fisting strangers. I still have your business card. Woo woo.
And if you've never seen it, here's the Altamont performance from the film Gimme Shelter, still unnerving all these years later:
And happy birthday, Mick.
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