I once knew a Lady.
On the block, for a time, she was known as The Illustrious Lady K. She was a Greek Islander transplanted to Detroit through the up-and-coming 1950s and 1960s, through 1980s, immigrant consensus of wealth building. Her father was a pillar. And in those eras, her eras, that time, she described what I can only transcribe here as an impugned rhapsody—because it was real, textured, and like any other time steeped in its own problematic tales.
This is the story of a Lady K.
Those eras were grit. The enormity of aviator glasses, made with real metal, thick glass, and the occasional bone temples. It was an era stricken with the enormity of pride and glamour—in the cultural closets of people going to the bank, or cascading out of assorted sleek real metal automobiles, and of course, all those blinders-on nights on the town with fellow play friends. But it was also the time of the auto empire, and the citified slavery of coming-uppings, and of all those with agrarian hands, up from Kentucky, Georgia, and elsewhere. In Detroit, these markings were in part the early makings of Lady K—an experience, a tantalizing fantasy, a parallelism, and a longing. And so, the story of knowing and finding such a lady as Lady K thus begins.
Black box theatre, 1515 Broadway
That Night, One.
In a salon-style, French Canadian radio blasting, café on Broadway Street, Downtown Detroit, I met her, thereupon a malaise peppered, yet intimately real, humanity. I was a fixture at the establishment, which specialized in cheap lox bagel sandwiches—all jazzed up on a well-seasoned panini griddle. Sometimes the café was a bustle with families in their finest dress attending an opera, but mostly it was a quieted bustle of bicycle persons and pawn-pushing occurrences. Inside, the air smelt of armpits and burning cheese—with the occasional sewer burp that would ever gracefully waft through the building’s uninsulated bricks.
To the credit of the inside, it was a black box theatre, with a ton of career beginning stories, and musical sweat equity from local performers. For these many artists, the café was something along the lines of a past that was very much loved, in hand with a past entirely forgotten. Certainly, it was its own reality. The outside also smelled, though, of Cadillac Co. coffee, grape flavored Swishers, utility steam vent essence, pigeon dandruff, stale piss, brewers’ yeast, and canola oil. Signature were these smells that they may very well have been the bonding element, the nature, of which adulterated us all together, sitting there at 1515 Broadway Café— laughing in hope.
Such was the case when she found herself sitting outside the establishment, one Friday night. She was wearing a well layered black on gray outfit, with weathered leather and obviously cared properly for fur—as if announcing to the distant moving shapes in her periphery that she was doing just fine.
The only picture of Lady K
Years Later, One.
“I am hurt,” Lady K asserted, as she took a drag of her American Spirit – Yellow. We were sat, as we often were, idling in nothingness, in her X5 Beamer. That day, parked beside the west Detroit riverfront.
“I know. It’s upsetting how things have developed. I really think that the intensity of my relationship with him has tainted yours,” I stated melancholically as I looked out toward the transient Detroit water.
This short conversation that day in her car was rooted in the once sitting-on-the-curb-and-laughing triad we had between Lady K and I, and our mutual friend, known here simply as Oss. It was in this moment that it became apparent that Oss no longer held interest in being Lady K’s friend. Perhaps motivated by the stoppage of a certain marijuana flow, or the stoppage of an inhibition soothing Oss body—which was often showcased. Or perhaps, it was the presupposed taint that comes with accepting gifts and money. But, in either case, it was Oss that cut their relationship—thus ending the triad of a twenty-, and thirty-, and sixty-year-old-something.
But we were simple creatures, Lady K and I, usually looking to move slow. And these complications were not for us. So, we’d dine on a scotch egg inspired al-fresco salad and an orange crème smothered toast, along with complimentary shots of yellow Chartreuse. This was our bond. Talking about the complexity of a lemon drizzled radicchio. Or the charmed civility in ripping a rustic rye crust. This was also our crutch, and one in which we continued to jolt into our bloodstreams, weekly, like a stallion that never can quite quench its thirst for the open bowled plains. Such metaphoric sweetgrasses drove us deeper into consumption—commenting on the crispness of random vegetative accoutrement on-and-off the plate, or the imbalance of a too thickly sliced fennel and grapefruit salad, or the uninterpretable features of a whipped 84% fat rosemary butter board with partially fractured Malden salt pyramids. Unlike Oss, these finer tastings, and more, were our heroin of choice, but for him, what he saw in us could only ever be gluttony—butchered and displayed in some window. So goes the collective white chariots we all seethe, though lust, and daily breathe.
That Night, Two.
As Lady K, yet unnamed as such, sat outside 1515 Broadway, it should be noted it was roughly 10:00pm on a Friday night. Here, we have this finer creature, with dewy eyes, sipping on an espresso, sat alone in the dampness that still swelled, then. Some pain, some cause—both were certain, but for what? This, Oss and I smirked at, and debated. Standing inside the café that night looking out at her, we were compelled to approach this woman in black. Oss, a white, six-foot, smart as hell, sexually explicit creature of Southern background, spat a gleeful shout through the windowpane, while I dashed forward with a halved mozzarella pesto sandwich, to share. Seating myself with her, I proceeded to eat the entirety of that bagel sandwich, scooping up every bite, not sharing. This woman sat before me, I assumed late 50s in age, was well spoken and interested in sharing something, too. That moment sits in my memory, so vivid—it was the blitz of an index finger on an arrow just out of quiver, sudden and forever changing the course of our collective histories.
On my part, eating that whole sandwich meant honesty. I was selfish and hungry. But in many ways, for both of us, we were searching for a new friend. An easy friendship.
She had dark features, large round brown eyes, with short sleek tufts of blackish hair, and a soft unworried tone—that filled the pissed-soaked air around us with something eternally blissful. Her skin was olive, with a handful of beauty marks, and dark rings—suggesting deep loss, but also deep motherly care. Her nails, clear and clean—which sat in opposition to the slight smokers pinch around her lips—especially when she puffed on her blunts, buds, tips, and doobies—often concealed in her multiple metal vials. Confidence it took to be sat there that night, and it was confidence that brought me to her side, and it was confidence in her to speak. And so began our own Hobbit journey. A journey of past and present, without need for a future.
Julien Godman, outside 1515 Broadway, lighting a cigar
Years Later, Two.
“Can you grab the Esquire from the back? You should see it on the floor. It’s a good size magazine to roll on” – Lady K asked me, as she ground her green and purple buds.
I would watch her in these moments, while I set the mood for our ultimate life sway. We lived for these moments, her holding a massive smoke, me pursing aloof lips and eyes upon the swaths of named-as-such ‘unfortunates’ whose only fault were that they were not us. In these moments, all that mattered was the saliva on our tongues, the apex of a good Gypsy Kings song, and the luxury of a zero-traffic street and lax red-light procedures. This was the float; this was the dream—to live in wafts of ignorance. It was in these sloshes from one puff, to a driven over curb, where Lady K would tell me of her former self. She often spoke in incompletes, highlighting only what she wanted to muster up from her decades of ‘I once.’
She would tell me of the times she partied with Prince on a yacht outside Monaco.
How the animated throngs of life have fallen.
She would recount the various baby showers of tens-of-millionaires.
How the throngs have fallen.
My diaphragm would pause when she’d talk of the odorous rose filled welcome at the actual Hotel California, whereupon she debuggied her dune mobile—incredulously!
How the throngs have fallen, oh.
The recollections of being swept off her feet, by her then less abusive, and yet to be pharmaceutically devolved, not-Greek husband.
Throngs falling still.
The stories she would tell me, of the family restaurant, across the street from the phosphorus lit grandeur that was Palmer Park. She’d say of back in ‘those days’ when she was a young girl posted up at the cashier counter, smiling at streetworkers, cops, and assorted coats in from the cold.
These throngs do sing.
In these familial moments, she would describe the freshest orange juice, pressed by hand, but of course with the salty tire that comes with the territory of then.
Such throngs have much to say.
She would tell me of the black sand caught in her camel leather sandals, the mountain herbs picked and placed in 100-year-old rusty buckets, the sun beating down on an Aegean sky.
How the throngs have fallen.
She would tell me of the men and women in pure conviviality, on her since past island of long-cherished-life.
How the throngs have fallen.
See, her family was from one of Earth’s few ‘green zones,’ green bits of society that have figured out that smooches, slow motioned food and fishing, yelping joy and dancing and drinking without regard, meant that century year old greater grandmas could be blessed with an unencumbered death. From these tales, we both agreed that time was meaningful when it was meaningless, often agreeing that—
—falling throngs of life are only relative to those who watch a clock.
This is for what we strived. These were her tales. These were her glories. These were our shared lines that we snorted while we paraded our glassy gazes outward into the world. I would, likewise, keep pace with the glory, with my own vestiges of storied ecstasy. I would regale of running a horse-trodden path through open grain fields—suggesting that my white stallion of choice had not always been slouch-sat-thought but rather run-movement-wind. I’d tell of touching unsuspecting tree bark, and the crossings of land in orange vans.
Sitting in her car those many dusks, I’d simply say “here you go,” as I passed the latest shirtless body Esquire, and watched this friend of mine.
That Night, Three.
That night on Broadway, she admitted she had never played poker, and though there had been ample gambling growing up, she had never needed to know the rules, which prompted me to offer her a lesson. This quickly turned into a fully-fledged night continued—at MGM Casino.
Since that night, we were inseparable. Through the quietude of nothingness, to the tales of her spoiled-rotten son of whom often rampaged through the suburban streets in the night-out-Porsche or errand-only twice crashed Caddy, to the ways in which ‘good’ accountants make a tax bill vanish, to the private-eye investigations we endeavored to then uncover the many secret bank accounts her husband kept, and to the breakings of so many social contracts.
But mostly, we just wanted to be criminals, and it was love.
Years Later, Three.
Through all of it, our relationship had to be kept a secret. Thus, why she was her Ladyship, Lady K. The subset of arrangements laid forth over the years entailed never to photograph her face, nor use her real name. To be silent when she’d take a call. Our running joke was that if we were ever to be discovered, which we once had been by a salsa dancing girlfriend of hers, that I was to be her Corleone of fashion, her wardrobe advisor, but not friend. This was the compromise, to avoid the uncouth realities of worlds colliding, better put, truth spoken.
Sometimes I’d think of what life these people led. The holidays a few doors down from the Gilberts in some hotel in Miami. Luncheons with the Kaisers. The bequeathed philanthropy of Art Van, from socially tight circles. The best dentists, and the toughest lawyers with their gilded smirks. Undeclared smuggled jars of olives from groves, sent from cousins in fleeting lands. The adages of a life I never really led, and in me, the life she never truly had.
This is for us, dear K.
This story was first published on January 31, 2023, at The Metropolitan.