Relay: Back Where I Once Belonged

M. had an altogether different take, emitting a piercing “Ahh!” upon seeing the name, shock given way to ecstasy

The name Dita Von Teese meant nothing to me, so I thought of nothing as M. and I neared the marquee at the Gramercy Theatre, where the burlesque dancer would soon take the stage and command the gathered crowd. 

M. had an altogether different take, emitting a piercing “Ahh!” upon seeing the name, shock given way to ecstasy. Unwittingly, I had earned many additional merit points. 

Two weeks prior, we had attended Le Scandal, which stakes the claim to “New York City’s longest running variety burlesque show,” and had a splendid time, so, when I happened upon what looked to be similar entertainment, I secured tickets for Friday, the third of four sold-out performances. 

“She is so beautiful,” M. observed of Ms. Von Teese. Among other attributes, “she has such beautiful skin,” according to M., who is from Tokyo. And indeed, she does. The pearly-white-skinned performer led a troupe of the bold, the beautiful, and the bizarre at the Gramercy, which was packed as though hosting the rock ’n’ roll concert we’d attended there last month. 

The winters in East Hampton, they get me down, and I go to New York more than I used to, and think about the old sixth-floor walkup in Williamsburg and sometimes wish I had moved back, and tell myself that maybe I’ll finally do it in the fall. Or maybe I’m just full of hot air, as usual. 

But I’m free again, and I’m bored. Or I was, until M. and I found each other on a bleak December afternoon, day-tripping, once-and-maybe-future New Yorkers escaping our present, and most weekends since then have been devoted to thrilling, blissful rendezvous there. 

The city always takes me back, circling back to the beginning, everything old new again. On the abnormally balmy Saturday, we awoke near Times Square and found a Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner, and I savored the sweet jolt of an extra-large coffee like the ones I bought daily for years on my way to the office at 53rd and Seventh, or Ninth and Broadway, or 31st and Park Avenue South. Later, we circled Gramercy Park, the scene of so many early-childhood memories, and rode a subway uptown to stroll Central Park to the carousel, the setting of so many others. 

The night before, we had reprised an earlier adventure: sushi at Yama, downstairs at 49 Irving Place, the onetime home — at least, according to local legend — of Washington Irving, followed by an evening at the Gramercy. 

On that night last month, the theater hosted the Magpie Salute, an offshoot of the Black Crowes, a great band I saw more than a dozen times in the Nineties and Aughts. The Magpie Salute played many numbers from the Crowes’ catalog, each drawing myriad memories of late nights at the Beacon and Irving Plaza and CBGB and that private party on Spring Street in April of ’01, where guests including Mick Jagger and Howard Stern and Don Was and Oasis, and a couple of us from Billboard marveled at that defiantly live and loud rock ’n’ roll powerhouse. 

On that first night at the Gramercy, M. and I partied like it was 1999, dancing like Elton John and Mary J. Blige had done before us as we all listened to the playback of “Deep Inside” (her take on “Bennie and the Jets”) at Quad Studios in Times Square in, yes, 1999, and then drank our way to the Lower East Side and stayed up until 3 and slept late and spent a small fortune on brunch but God it beat waking up alone in East Hampton in January. 

“Who can tell, when he sets forth to wander, whither he may be driven by the uncertain currents of existence,” Irving asked, “or when he may return, or whether it may ever be his lot to revisit the scenes of his childhood?” I, for one, often revisit the old neighborhood, still trying, I guess, to get back to where I once belonged. 

M. cheered wildly for Ms. Von Teese and the others. Seeing her so happy made me so very happy too, and loosened the sorrow and regret to which I tend to cling. “How easy is it for one benevolent being to diffuse pleasure around him,” Irving wrote, “and how truly is a kind heart a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity to freshen into smiles.” 


Christopher Walsh is a senior writer at The Star.