Over the several weeks, OutsideLeft will unveil excerpts of Joe Ambrose’s forthcoming book, “Chelsea Hotel Manhattan.” Websites and publishers usually charge a fee for this kind of stuff, but you’re getting a first look for free. You may know Joe by his OutsideLeft column, “Moshpit,” or his published books “Serious Time,” “Too Much Too Soon” or “Gimme Danger” – all which can be found on Amazon.com. That’s right friends, we have a published author in our midst and we’re lucky to have him. So here’s the second of a four part preview before it goes to press: “Chelsea Hotel Manhattan.”
By 1973, when the drug business was thriving, Dimitrios had his traditional gangster olive oil business going. (The Duchess gave me a bottle of “Dimitrios Extra Virgin Gourmet Organic Zeitung Speciale,” now popularly known as “Zeitung Speciale” for my salads. Available in each and every high ticket fag deli in Chelsea.) No one questioned old Dimitrios stranded out there in the suburban backwoods of New Jersey. Or The Duchess, principal buyer for Dimitrios Imports, who lived at the Chelsea but who commuted three days a week to her office, a small shack in the middle of a compound containing six larger shacks, somewhere in Hoboken. Twice a year she goes on olive oil, almond, walnut, saffron, and drug purchasing trips to exotic climes where the living is easy because the money grows on trees.
The Duchess has lived in the Chelsea for at least thirty years. Nobody – including The Duchess – is entirely certain about her date of arrival. “There are lost years, my dear,” she chuckles junk-gently, “and there are found years.” Her specialty is sizing up complete strangers with stunning accuracy. She can identify the most cunningly disguised narc by looking at him from across a crowded room. It is her business to examine each punter who wants to do business with the Dimitrios organization and to decide whether or not he or she should be supplied. And how much they should be charged. She is exceptionally valuable to Dimitrios.
Her priceless partner in crime is Bill Conduit who came to Manhattan all the way from New Orleans. Bill is known around the Chelsea – by his fans – as The Converse Kid, because of his penchant for all-black Converse All Stars trainers. Something he shares with TheRamones, me, and early Elvis.
“According to Bill, “ The Duchess says, “the Converse company has gone bankrupt. He says they went in for too many fancy designs the last few years. He is stockpiling Converse trainers because he says that, when they get taken over, the stitching will never be as good again. He reckons the bankruptcy is considerably more tragic than both the break-up of The Ramones and the deaths of Joey and Dee Dee put together.”
“Within six years of us setting up the business, Dimitrios returned to Istanbul. I think it must have been around September 1975, because I was twenty five right then and he went home a few days after we had a party here at the Chelsea.” The Duchess tells me while we’re dining in my rooms, “He remains there to this day. Now he is an old man. Looked after by his two daughters, nice respectable married women in their thirties, and a succession of Italian nubiles. Within a year of his going home, we had to increase our monthly supply of heroin to fifty kilos. And then Bill Conduit insisted in 1981 that we also had to get into the cocaine business. In the Nineties Bill pointed us in the direction of Ecstasy. Bill was always up to speed on those latest musical trends! Me, I kind of lost the plot when Brian Jones got kicked out of the Stones, though I have vivid memories of when David Bowie showed in town. Our white stuff came into New York Harbor via deck hands on Venezuelan freighters. Consignments of brown stuff arrived in from Istanbul, secure in sealed containers anchored at the bottom of the East River.”
Her beautiful face is the only thing that betrays her age, a little skin bagging out over the architecture of her bones. She has never learned to accept praise about anything other than her good looks. She is a keen photographer in the Man Ray style, her life of crime originally organised to pay her way through an art school in Manhattan.
Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.