One Last Look at the Cotton Club (a sort of Polaroid)

17 Jun

Out of the five of us crammed into the back of the truck that night in the late summer of 1985, only I caught it. It was almost two in the morning and we sped by it on 142nd and Lenox Avenue, looking for a shitty patty melt and gravy-soaked fries at an open-all-night diner. We had driven up from D.C. to hang at a night session of brilliant tennis in Flushing, and now we were sweating booze and looking for cheap fuel. Earlier that day Krebs got taken by a vendor down on Canal. He had bought a small television off the street, only to find a neatly-wrapped boulder in the sealed box. We all laughed. I loved New York City for that. It fucked with you and if you didn’t fuck back, you were left standing there looking like a sucker tourist with rocks in your pocket. Literally. We ate noodles and greasy egg rolls for lunch, but we got ushered out suddenly by a bomb threat called in from a disturbed citizen in disagreement with Mayor Koch’s decision to shut down the city’s gay bathhouses. What that had anything to do with Chinatown, I never understood.

And so The Cotton Club—forgotten and unkempt—receding into the humid night, as we were trying to make our famished way back out to Jersey. I caught it for a few seconds and it was brilliant, even shaggy and raggedy as it stood there, shut down and dark. Everyone was still there: Duke, Ella, Cab, Fats, Dizzy, Gershwin, Mae West, Eddie Cantor, Moss Hart, Jimmy Walker, Jimmy Durante…everyone. They were there. They were bouncing around the abandoned joint, waiting for a revival of sorts.

We never found our open-all-night restaurant. We ended up crashing a friend’s motel room in Edgewater, by the Grand Cove Marina. In the morning, they all went down to mooch off the free, continental breakfast while I stayed behind and had a shower. Krebs left his neatly-packed rock in the TV box, on the small desk, next to the window, as a recycled, cruel gift joke to the housekeeping staff. Krebs didn’t have a good sense of humor.


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