Ronnie lived under Patti. That is to say, Ronnie lived in the apartment directly beneath Patti’s. This was on Park Avenue, #84 (now 169), in the section of the street known as Cottage Row because most of the dwellings between Baker Street and Catherine in times past were “cure cottages” packed with tuberculosis patients hoping to catch their breath. Some of them recovered and lived long lives, but some gasped their last in those houses.
Ronnie sat on his sofa and rolled a joint the size of beer can. It had been a tough day. He needed to relax. He took four tokes, stayed put until he felt mellow, then shuffled off to bed.
He awoke to the sound of the house door opening and closing, voices in the hall, people on the stairs, treads and risers creaking. It went on and on. Good thing he had brought the doobie from the living room. He relit it, took a couple of tokes, went back to sleep…until he awoke again: the sound of feet overhead, lots of them, dancing. And music. Not Pink Floyd or King Crimson or Deep Purple like he’d to expect to hear from upstairs. Old stuff, from when his grandparents were his age. A couple more tokes. Sleep again. Until nearly dawn: darkness thinning at the windows, traffic on the stairs, murmuring in the hall, front door opening and closing until he thought the hinges would fail. Then, finally, quiet.
Ronnie came-to around noon, got dressed, didn’t bother with breakfast. He donned his coat to go upstairs. Patti always kept the windows open on account of the smoke. Her apartment door was unlocked as usual, and Ronnie walked in to find Patti at the kitchen table slumped on a chair with a mug of coffee in her hands.
“You don’t look too good, Patti.”
“God, what a night!”
“You’re tellin’ me. You and your friends kept wakin’ me up till practically sunrise. That was one hell of a party you had up here.”
“Now you’re messin’ with my head.”
“No, I think you’re messin’ with mine! I mean, I know what I heard.” And Ronnie told Patti about the door and the stairs, the coming and the going, the laughter, the thumping on the floor from the dancers.
“And the music! Did you get ahold of some of those old 78s or something? Sounded like the 1930s up here!”
Patti’s face had gone white, like she’d seen a ghost.
“None of that happened, Ronnie; but I’ll tell you what did happen. I kept having this dream, and I couldn’t shake it. There were all these people I didn’t know, and they were…it was like you said. They were having a party, all of them dressed from like forty years ago, dancing to music nobody ever plays anymore. I mean, they were having a great time; and I was like: ‘What are you doing in my apartment?’ This woman just laughs at me and says, ‘Why honey, I live here.’ Then somebody else says, ‘I’m downstairs.’ Another one says, ‘Upstairs.’ Then ‘next door;’ ‘across the street;’ ‘around the corner.’ I woke up. Everything quiet, except I could hear your snoring through the floor. I fell back to sleep, same thing. People partying. Coming and going. Music. Dancing. It went on all night.”
Ronnie could see the ripples on Patti’s coffee, Patti shaking. He took the mug from her; said, “You don’t need any more of that.” He reached into one of his coat pockets and pulled out a fatti the size of a toaster. He cranked one of the knobs on the gas stove, got the weed burning, took a long pull, passed it to Patti. She inhaled, held it in, let it go, repeated the ritual several more times.
“Ghost party,” she said after most of the smoke had drifted out the window. “That’s what it was.”
“Musta been,” Ronnie agreed. “Just let me know when you’re havin’ the next one. I want to be there.”
Patti shook her head. She held out her hands, steady now.
“Well, maybe they were nice people. And great clothes, no denyin’. But no…once is enough, Ronnie. Once is enough.”
This story is mostly true. My apologies to Patty in Florida and Ronnie in Heaven if I reported some details imprecisely. After all, it was the 70s: a pretty hazy decade.
One thought on “Once is Enough by Phil Gallos”
Buddy Dean from Maryland. Friend from the 60’s.