This approaching Sunday, the 29th, will be the birthday, assuming he is still living, of Andrew “Legend” Stevens. Andrew was best man at my wedding on July 29th in 1977. Born in Cornwall, England, in, I think, the same year as me, which would be 1950, Stevens was and may still be one of the most lovable yet exasperating reprobates I have ever known. The self-styled “Ledgy” and I were bartenders at the same joint at 68th Street and Columbus Avenue in New York City, a place then called, unimaginatively enough, Dazzel’s. It was 1974. I had just quit a touring rock band, and Stevens had newly arrived from England to seek his fortune as a movie star, if that was convenient, if not, something equally well paid but undemanding. The last I heard, back in the ’80s, he was still a barman in Chelsea. New York, not London.
If ever there was such a person labeled Mr. Friday Night, it would be Stevens. Whatever it is he may be doing these days (and I have not heard from him since 1983), my guess is that he is “dining out” on his imaginative autobiographical anecdotes as much as any conventional work. (No offense, Ledgy, if you are out there; it is merely a tip of the hat to your wildly entertaining nature.) With his public school accent (picked up, he would tell you, at Charterhouse), he could regale jaded New Yorkers with tales of missing roll call during his days with the Royal Horse Artillery, blustering into formation at the last minute with his uniform hastily tucked in and over last night’s tuxedo, brutally hung over, with a carnation dapperly fixed into his ammunition belt and having recently bounded from Lady Ashbrook’s bedroom window with the arrival of Lord Ashbrook, MP, at his heels even as he called out, “Present, suh!”
The day I walked out of a recording session at Electric Lady Studios on Eighth Street in the West Village, I seated myself at a corner barstool in the former bookie joint known for decades as McGlade’s, I believe. The bank of telephone booths along the south wall testified to its tenure as a gaming establishment before the days of off-track betting. I remember ordering lemonade while I waited for the owner and Stevens curling his aristocratic lip. He refused and handed me a Campari and soda. “Not much of a boozer,” I told him. “It’s kind of a crude high, isn’t it? Doesn’t seem like a good idea, drinking at a job interview.”
“Hippie, eh?” Taking in my long hair.
“Musician.” We began talking about his friends back in Jolly Ole and his mates in the Pretty Things over there. I lied and told him I was in Brian Auger’s band for awhile, and he seemed to approve, if not of Auger, at least of the facility with which I delivered convincing details of the fiction. It became the keynote of our relationship. I was hired that same afternoon, but as a waiter. On that same afternoon I was fired after a brief fistfight (true story for another time) with one of my customers, only to be rehired on the spot as a bartender after again lying about my experience.
Both Stevens and I thought we were tougher than we were and involved ourselves in more than one barroom donnybrook, as they were called, probably during the days when the bar was a bookie joint. It was a miracle neither of us was killed bloodily and stupidly.
On the day of my wedding, with my bride eight months preggo, as Ledgy termed it, we piled into a Checker cab (it had to be a Checker for cinematic reasons). Stevens forestalled my directions to the cabbie and said to him, “I’ve always wanted to say this. City Hall and step on it, Mac. I’ve got a dame to get hitched up.” He loved American movies, and in fact, fancied himself living one at all times. During one of his romantic fits he quit the bar job and traveled west to dig ditches or lay pipe or whatever it was in Waco, Texas. He returned a month later, thinner, exhausted, and appalled at the actual work that had been required of him. He had drunk away most of his wages with Mexican migrant workers with whom he had shared a kind of Tortilla Flat while in the throes of a Steinbeck fantasy of Americana. He resumed his job at Dazzel’s immediately and befriended certain famous customers such as Sarah Churchill, whom he would regularly pile into a taxi in the most gentlemanly way after overserving her terribly. Another famous sometime patron was Lauren Bacall, who lived nearby on 72nd Street. Acting as her waiter one day, he approached her, alone at a table, and informed her that the bartender did a terrific Humphrey Bogart imitation. She seemed amused and asked if he could arrange a demonstration. That bartender was me. After several earnest death threats directed at Ledgy, I was introduced to her and performed my impression while approximately reciting the opening paragraph to Raymond Chandler’s Red Wind:
There was a desert wind blowing that night, one of those hot, dry Santa Anas that come down out of the mountain passes, make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Timid housewives fondle the carving knife while studying the backs of their husband’s necks….
It was ironic that Stevens, an Englishman, insisted I read Chandler. I had never done so. I spent a good 80,000 words of my first published novel imitating him. Bacall pretended to enjoy my performance. Very gracious, she was.
Stevens and I vowed that if either of us discovered the other at the moribund age of 26 to be still tending bar, the discoverer would euthanize the over-the-hill cocktail slinger. I took a temporary, fill-in job behind the stick at the Old Town Mexican Café in 1991, at the age of 40, for the last time. Ledgy may still be at it in Manhattan, for all I know. If he is, may you have the good fortune to stumble upon him at his place of employment someday. There is a very real danger — if Ledgy is still Ledgy — you will also stumble out.