Thursday, December 15, 2016

LAST CALL WITH ARTHUR

After my arrest for copyright infringement in Thailand I had to stick around Pattaya for my court date. Three months without any income. I called my various friends around the world for contributions to my 'stay out of jail' fund. There was a schedule to these pleas and in April it was Scottie Taylor's turn. I dialed his number in New York and the ex-owner of Milk Bar answered the phone on the first ring.

"I got bad news." His words were weighed by fatality.

"What?" I hadn't even had time to explain my plight.

"Art's bad." He was talking about Arthur Weinstein.

"How bad?" My boss from the Jefferson had been diagnosed with cancer two years earlier. Bad could only mean one thing.

"It's only matter of time." Scottie had known Arthur most of his life. "Maybe a month. Maybe two."

"I'll be there in three weeks."

The trial date was in 10 days. Deportation as a persona non grata was a possibility. So was jail. I luckily met the chief prosecutor two days before the trial. We were at a bar. He said not to worry about a thing and at court the judge fined me $100. I walked out of Pattaya court a free man and bought two bottles of Mekong whiskey for the cops. The prosecutor got Johnny Walker Black. Two days later I bid farewell to my pregnant mistress at her Jomtien apartment and stayed in Chai-nat with my wife and daughter until my flight to JFK.

The flight to New York took 36 hours. Andrew Pollack had promised a soft landing and I crashed at his Fort Greene brownstone. The bed was soft. His kids were a reminder of my daughter in Thailand. My friends feted me as an escaped cyber-criminal.

"It was a misdemeanor," I protested, although not in innocence.

"Misdemeanor?" They wanted to hear the story their way and I felt more like the prodigal bum until later that week when I cashed in a life insurance policy. $2000 would last my wife and mistress a month and I could live on $10 a day. New York was my home once more. I had friends to see and visited Scottie at his office. For a 50 year-old stuck in a meaningless 9-to-5 job, he looked happy, then again his wife loved him and he loved her on his Harley.

I congratulated him on his wedding. A frown crossed his face.

"You seen Art yet?" Arthur was Scottie's best friend. They had financed their first nightclub from Scottie's glomming the bar at the Ritz. The owner had said in a newspaper article that he would have given the money, if they asked. Scottie, Arthur, and I knew better than that.

"No." I knew Arthur 25 years. We were almost family and a lot of people felt the same way about the nightclub owner. Arthur had hired me for the doorman at the Jefferson and Continental. He had put money in my pocket and had never asked anything in return other than for me to be happy. "I'll go this afternoon."

"Don't go in the afternoons. That's when his medicine kicks in."

"The last time I saw him he was in good shape." Two years ago Arthur had shown me his silk-screens hanging in the hallway of the Chelsea Hotel. I liked them a lot. "He said he was going to beat the cancer."

"He fought it."

Arthur liked fights. Not fisticuffs, but fighting was in his blood. We had watched Michael Spinks versus Tyson at the World. The bout lasted less than a minute. Art's fight had been much longer.

"To be truthful Art looks better than you'd think. His hair is black as a crow wing and other than a scar on his throat he is the same old Art."

Scottie and I spoke about the first time we met at the Reggae Lounge. The year was 1979. Arthur was opening his loft over the Jefferson as an after-hours club. Arthur was 31. I was 27 and Scottie was younger. We thought that we were going to live forever. Scottie still resembled a less scruffy version of Charles Manson and was kind enough to say, "You haven't changed much too."

"Thanks." I no longer recognized my reflection in the mirror.

The next morning I called Art's apartment in the Chelsea Hotel. Colleen his wife answered the phone. "Art would love to see you."

"I'll come over now."

"Just a second. I'll ask first." Colleen and Art had been together for years. They were a team. Their middle name was love. Not all the time, just 99% of always which was more than most people. She came back on the phone. Her voice was strong. Colleen and her daughter had been dealing with this for months.

"Sorry, he's not in a good state right now."

"Pain?" I hated the idea of Arthur suffering. We were 'my generation'. This was the youth of our old age. The clock wasn't supposed to be ticking out the seconds so fast.

"No, just a little out of it. Try tomorrow."

The next day I worked at a Chinatown art gallery, hanging paintings on the wall. I dialed Arthur's number at 6. Colleen said not tonight. I ate Chinese food in a cheap restaurant off Grand Street. I called Scottie halfway through my Moo Shu Pork.

"Remember when you said the only things you needed in life to make you happy were a joint, a video, a Chinese take-out, and a Duralog?"

"That must have been when I was living in LA." Back in the early 90s Scottie had been Billy Idol's driver. He lost the job after Billy broke his leg in a motorcycle accident. "Life was much simpler then."

"I've been trying to see Art."

"It's all a matter of timing. I saw him this morning. That's the best time."

"By the way I'm eating Chinese now."

"Then you're one-quarter of the way to paradise."

I hung up, finished my meal, and headed back to Brooklyn. My friend, Andrew, and I watched the Celtics on his wide-screen TV and smoked a joint. I fell asleep dreaming of the the way to heaven. One dream was Arthur and me at the Milk Bar drinking late at night. No dialogue. Only the simple exchange of glances. His eyes could say most anything.

I woke early. The dawn mist filled the windows with a filthy gray. I hadn't been this cold in years and it was May 1. I worked the next three days at the art gallery. Lifting frames was crushing my ancient spine. Andrew invited me to spend the weekend with his wife and two kids in the Hamptons. My back said 'rest' and I waved good-bye from the second-floor of the brownstone. That evening I pulled Anthony Haden-Guest's THE LAST PARTY from the bookshelf. Arthur figured heavily in the Culture of the Night. The account of the Jefferson raid brought back many memories. Most of them I had forgotten. I called Scottie to leave a message. He picked up the phone instead.

"Scottie, I just read LAST PARTY. Arthur was in it a lot." Hurrah's, the Jefferson, the Continental, the World, and a hundred other places we can't remember unless someone showed us the pictures.

"Arthur symbolized the night to Anthony." Scottie had been quoted in the book as being the only straight bartender at Studio 54.

"Me too." Speaking out of the side of his mouth at the Jefferson to make sure no one else could hear whatever he was saying. Running the lights at the Limelight. Greeting guests at the World. "He got me my last job at a nightclub job. I can't remember the name. It was trendy. I lasted two weeks. The owner said I was letting in too many normal people. I was trying for a mix. He only wanted fashion people."

"Ugh." Scottie had retired from the night a decade ago.

"I told Arthur sorry and he said, "What for? You got paid didn't you?" Arthur believed in the 1st Commandment of Yiddish. Nimmt geld or take the money.

"Go see Arthur."

"I will."

Sunday morning I called Arthur. Colleen answered the phone. She said he was good. I took the A train to 23rd Street and walked to the Chelsea Hotel. It was under new management. I didn't see the change.

"I'm here to see Arthur Weinstein." I told the clerk.

"Are they expecting you?"

"Yes." Arthur and Colleen had moved here with their daughter Dahlia back in the last century. Like many residents they deserved a plaque.

"Then go on up." Maybe it more the Chelsea than I thought. The elevator certainly was Chelsea Hotel slow. I got off on the 2nd floor and walked to 208. I knocked on the door. Colleen asked if it was me.

"Yes."

She was happy to see me. We knew each other a long time.

"Art's in the bedroom."

"How is he?"

"You'll see."

Back in the early 70s a friend on mine was in a Boston Hospital. I was told 407, but heard 406. That room had a man wrapped in bandages from head to toe. It took me several seconds to realize he wasn't my friend and walking through the Weinstein's living room, I prepared myself for the worst.

"He's in there." She pointed to the bedroom and I walked through the door.

The room smelled of medicine. Arthur was sitting up in the bed. Silver rings cluttered his fingers. His pajamas were black silk. An ascot hid the majority of the scar snaking beneath his jaw. He was very much a man of style and waved for me to sit down, then wrote a message on paper. His mouth no longer had the capacity to speak.

"How you think I look?" Like most handsome men vanity is tough to kill.

"You want the truth?"

He nodded behind white Rayban sunglasses.

"You remember CITIZEN KANE when the reporter goes to visit Joseph Cotton in the sanitarium. You look a little like him, only more handsome."

The laugh came from his chest and he wrote more.

"I loved that movie." His hand moved heavy across the paper. "So how's your family?"

"Good, you know I'm having another baby?"

His eyebrows arched indicating he was rolling his eyes.

"Good luck." He scrawled out the two words." His scholarship to Fordham had been for pitching baseballs, not penmanship.

"I think it's going to be a boy." I told him about my arrest and my mistress. I read a story about the Jefferson. He was the hero. When his head fell on his chest, I started putting away the manuscript, but he grabbed my hand. I wasn't going anywhere.

"I could have beaten this." He scrawled on the paper. "I was stupid."

"But you survived death a couple of times." I wasn't going to lie about his making it to Christmas or even Labor Day. "What about the time the cop from the 9th precinct blew a hole in the wall or that cop Bobby punched you in the Continental."

"Thanks a lot for that." He printed these words big. They were very legible.

"What else was I supposed to do?" Bobby was a killer. He asked for Arthur at the front door. I pointed to Arthur at the bar. Bobby walked across the club to Arthur and punched him once. The 20th Precinct wanted their cut. "Sorry."

"If you were sorry, you would have fingered someone else as me."

Colleen entered the room and glanced at Arthur like he had been a bad boy. They had been together more than 30 years. Back at the time of the Continental no one would have gambled on their marriage lasting this long. A diamond eternity band circled Colleen's wedding finger.

"Arthur, I remember you coming up to 47th Street to buy that for Colleen. You said you wanted something to show you loved her." I was surprised to hear him say it even knowing it was in his heart. Art was a man of a few words sometimes.

Arthur nodded and Colleen motioned for me to leave. I thanked her for letting me visit Arthur and she saw me to the door.

"I'll let you know." She wasn't talking about a dinner party.

Outside on 23rd Street I called Scottie.

"How was he?"

"Arthur was Arthur."

"Good." Scottie and I didn't have to say much.

Arthur died within two weeks. He was at the Chelsea Hotel.

Scottie, Arthur's daughter Dahlia, and Colleen mourned his departure from this earth. His friends cried at the news. The New York Times wrote a good obit saying he re-designed the night. I toasted him at Angelo's in Little Italy. Someone said it was Arthur's Last Call, but he was wrong. There was never a last call with Arthur Weinstein. Not on this Earth, only in the great beyond.

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