There is a silence right then for two whole minutes while she meditates on what went wrong a long time ago. I can hear Mick Jagger singing in the suite next door. It’s not a record that I know, so… I don’t know. Maybe he has some new solo stuff out. Or maybe he has done the theme song for some new flop movie. Or maybe he’s making a cameo appearance on some Fugees-Related-Product. Or maybe he’s right in there buck naked taking a shower while some supermodel watches, enjoying her finest hour.
I feel a little uneasy with The Duchess, just like I do when I have ceased to understand.
“Sure. We all got problems,” she grunts, calmly dismissing Abdelkrim from her conversation, “and our problems obey the laws of perspective. They look big close up.”
After the Abdelkrim disaster they had to stockpile heroin. “In two months we lost no less than ninety kilos of heroin, twenty of morphine, and five of cocaine. When the heat receded Dimitrios made what will probably be his last visit to New York. To all the world he’s just some geriatric old olive oil importer these days. He was still handsome when I met him; now he just looks like a big slab of fish. He bought three cheap houses on Long Island and, by ‘95, we had, beneath the floorboards, a permanent backup supply of 250 kilos of heroin, 200-odd kilos of morphine, 90 kilos of cocaine and a small quantity of prepared Turkish opium. These three Long Island buildings are right alongside each other. A shopfront on the bottom floor of each. One of these a thrift store. I got my nephew Tiago to run a gay art gallery in the second when he got out of jail though Tiago is not gay. “Gay” just makes it look harmless. They are harmless, no? The gallery allows Tiago to keep an eye on the place for us. He spends a day a week there, and they actually sell the occasional piece. The third property is a music shop specializing in reggae and other black stuff. That one is a straight legit rental. There are three rooms over each shop. Important ground floor exits back and front. Doors not that easy to kick in. That sort of place. A bad neighborhood so that nobody gives a shit whether we live or die. I remember Dimitrios once told me that it is the efficient who generally win; the gamblers who generally lose. Dimitrios now has a nice wealthy family but his secret is that he truly understands what it is to be poor. You know, my darling, that like you I was once a radical socialist…”
“Anarchist,” I correct her, though I can’t imagine why.
“OK, OK, you were an anarchist.”
“Still am an anarchist.” I think.
“Yes, yes, my dear, you still are an anarchist. Very romantic. Congratulations. We are the world. So, anyway, when I was a radical socialist I was such an optimist. Now, like Lou Reed says, I’m resigned to the resignation of the poor.”
“Lou Reed said that?” I interject dubiously. I have every album Reed ever made though I’m not so intrigued by his collaborations with Sam from Sam and Dave or his ‘Perfect Day’ with Pavarotti and Dolly Parton or whoever the fuck. Reed should be ashamed of himself in that regard.
“Yass. Lou said that.”
I gather from her suddenly somewhat frumpy Dowager Empress tone that I’ve caught her out but if I keep catching her out all the time I’ll lose a friend. That’s the catch. Still, I’ve never known Lou Reed to write a bad line or to be resigned to anything. Since I’m here sitting in his city in the Chelsea Hotel I don’t feel like letting it pass. But I do.
Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.