Deanna Kirk

Fall of ’92, I flew from San Francisco to Newark. After a most dehydrating flight, a silvery beast of a bus shuttled me to Grand Central Station. Then, I busted my taxi cab hymen en route to my first college dorm called Marlton House. I dragged my schlep into the world’s slowest elevator and waited a year for it to arrive at the seventh floor. I found my room and pushed open an orange door heavier than a busload of bowling balls.

A twin bed, a desk, and a chest of drawers, none of them flush with any of its four feculentastic walls. My new home was so compact that in this unfortunately furnished riddle of horror, there was nowhere for the luggage of a lost little girl, except atop a dank mattress.

Marlton House is at 5 West 8th Street. It was built in 1900 and was basically cheap single room lodging for struggling artists, poets and transients. Poached by the New School in ’87, it was the hip haps for Beatnik types. Wikipedia told me that Lenny Bruce stayed there during his infamous sixth month trial for obscenity. To which he argued:

“…that to is a preposition, and come is a verb, that the sexual context of come is so common that it bears no weight,,, and that if someone hearing it becomes upset, he or she probably can’t come.”

Lenny was lucky to have lived during an age when the word come wasn’t alternatively used as cum in reference to ejaculation or orgasm. Even in my horniest hour, I despise the order of those three letters. Don’t ever type or text that mess to me.

(But I do love Lenny Bruce.)

My new home was one block from the entrance to Washington Square Park and a spit’s distance to MacDougal Street. The lobby was petite. A stairwell, an elevator and a tiny front desk with small numbered mail cubbies were all jammed into 500 square feet or so.

I can only assume the school didn’t do much to rid the building of its residual inhabitants. I estimate there were two “original” residents average per floor. Doesn’t seem daunting? Consider this. We shared toilet seats and showers with these creatures.

Don’t forget we are talking about New York City here. As glamorous as you want it to be is about how god damn dirty it is.

Since I signed up for housing late, I was placed on a waiting list and received the only available and least desirable room. This was the smallest (literally), and biggest (figuratively), craphole in the crapheap.

Shrouded in scaffolding, it was moody and menacing. It felt damp and dejected, weepy and wilted. It was kind of brownish and maroon all over. The elevator smacked gothic insane asylum. My room was number 709. It was easy to remember because it took approximately seven hundred and nine seconds for the elevator to get me there and right about the same number of sobs to get me to sleep.

709 smelled like my brother’s sweat socks as if he had wiped his ass with them after pooping in the grass during a long distance run on the hottest day of the year. After several nights in this place I’ve just described, and having made no friends to speak of I decided to slip the fuck out. I descended the cold marble stairs while sparring with my inner crybaby.

I know it must seem like I was very spoiled, because I was. And as it turns out, this would turn out to be one of the better living situations of my life in New York City… considering all possible variables. But… you know… I was young and lame. So please, allow me a few more paragraphs of drivel before you administer any real lasting judgment.

There was a public phone on every floor of the dorm. I would soon learn there would always be some fucker on each of them. Anyone I witnessed talking on any of those phones, I immediately and vehemently despised. I generally hate anyone in my way, but this was an extraordinary variety of contempt, particularly if I returned 30 to 45 minutes later to see the same individual enjoying the same conversation.

I saw a purple Post-it next to the sixth floor phone that read: “Peter, we are in the Village at Cafe Rafaella. – Martin.”

As I walked, I pondered the purple missive. I had heard of this Greenwich Village. I wanted to see it. Manhattan is narrow. How far off could I find myself? I wanted to accidentally stumble upon them.

I fantasized that Martin was a tall dark number with big hands and that his friend Peter was a European version of the gorgeous garbage-hauling boyfriend that I left back in Walnut Creek. And as I walked, I imagined the three of us chewing on espressos. I would behave as my very astute mother had advised me, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” (That meant I would smoke unfiltered cigarettes and put out almost immediately.)

I would be Catherine in a modern day Jules et Jim. And my terrible dorm room wouldn’t matter because we’d be in chic cafes all year. Then one night, right before summer break we would have a fantastic threesome in which I was the star. We’d share a hookah pipe afterward, giggle ourselves to sleep in a naked triangle flanked with a hodgepodge of pillows and not even one of us would be ashamed of our perilous pubic hair.

I walked way beyond my comfort zone. I kept thinking along St. Mark’s Place that I should turn back, but there was no phone or TV in 709. It was dark, late, hot and humid. I kept on until I reached Avenue A which I didn’t recognize until I realized the shadowy park that frightened me, would be one Tompkins Square.

All around me people in drab clothing droned and smoked… each and every one of them with a mess of things hanging from them. Beads, chains, scarves, dreads, drool. It was like the Halloween apocalypse. My need to squirt caught up with my hunger so I ended up at some dump where I read a Village Voice over a pile of salty Vegetable Don and warm beer.

(I have a very gastronomically complicated relationship with beer.)

For a change of scenery, I decided to walk back on E. 7th St. I was having a behemoth carbohydrate hangover. Sluggish and gassy, I passed a black unmarked door with the coolest music happening behind it. I walked on a bit, but couldn’t let go of that music, so I turned back. As I opened the door, a grenade of cigarette smoke slapped me across the face.

The music was marvelous and the room was small. A jazz quartet struggled to conform to a corner. There was a Steinway, a stand up bass, a saxophonist and a bearded bad ass on a snare drum. The music was so loud that no one could speak and so divine that no one would. Everyone sucked on cigarettes. There was a bar to my left and some tables to my right and not a single empty seat. I stood against the bar until I saw one. The ceiling was low and stained brown and yellow, the walls lined with dark purple curtains. This was the most important place in the world.

I only had ten dollars so I sat down and drank a glass of offensive red wine. I presume an hour, maybe two, had passed. I began crushing on the bassist. He had longish hair that was real, real dirty. His eyes were closed mostly. When he finally opened them they landed on my brand new pink Vans.

I had to go, because my Vans were so stupid.

I farted my way back across town… to my extraordinary new home in Greenwich Village.

_______________________________________________________________________________

This was a stupid fucking story about a special moment in New York’s jazz history.

(I can’t believe you actually read it.)

For five gorgeous years, seven nights a week, there was Deanna’s. It was just exactly, specifically what every proprietor of every stupid speakeasy or “indie” venue is currently trying to pull. But Deanna didn’t try… It was just good.

So good.

Deanna Kirk is a legendary vocalist and pianist from Long Island. She was discovered at the Bolshoi Ballet in the late 1980’s by some British entrepreneur types who helped her realize her very own club in New York’s East Village.

Her first recorded album was live and entitled Live at Deanna’s. (I can’t believe I don’t own it. After I publish this post I will be sniffing around the internet for it.) She is not just a performer, but also a writer. Her studio albums, entitled Marianna Trench and Where Are You Now, received messes of positive press and acclaim.

Tragically, the venue of my dreams burned to bits and Deanna was left to salvage her memoirs.