Reflections on Nick Ashford–Part 11

I was pressed into service this afternoon at Nick’s Bench, a.k.a., The Bryant Park Bench That Says “Nick Ashford Slept Here.” Apparently, it was my turn to protect it from vandals.

I was meeting with Sandrine Lee, a wonderful commercial/art photographer, a.k.a., Will Lee’s wife. She knew the bench well.

The first attack came without warning: Suddenly I saw whitish liquid splatter on my khaki cargo shorts, a fraction of a second after I felt a massive wad drop on my forearm. Stunned, Sandrine reached for a handkerchief to help me wipe off the bird shit.

Nick was such a spiritual being. I’m the exact opposite, so I gave no thought that maybe he was upset at me for that joke I played on him years ago, when CBS Sunday Morning was shooting a segment of a great Ashford & Simpson feature at the bench. When Nick and Val and the camera crew arrived, they found it was occupied by a homeless man, fast asleep as Nick had once been there when he first came to New York, homeless and alone. Upon closer inspection, that bum on the bench turned out to be…me.

But had I been spiritual, I might have had second thoughts half an hour or so later, when I felt a second massive wad land hard a couple inches left of my right earlobe on what little hair I have left. This one, Sandrine said as she dabbed me with her handkerchief, was a different color.

They had it in for me, the birds. I know. The bench was clean. Sandrine was clean.

The only explanation I can come up with is that they regard me as unworthy, either of sitting on Nick’s Bench next to Sandrine, or sitting on Nick’s Bench, period—or both. Sandrine, I can’t argue. But Nick? Nick found everyone worthy of sitting at his table in the Cat Lounge at the Sugar Bar, and surely wouldn’t bar me or anyone else from sitting on his bench in Bryant Park.

So I’ll be back on the bench tomorrow morning, birds. But with a box of Kleenex and a hat.

Reflections on Nick Ashford–Part 10

Val’s sax player Todd Schefflin invited me to a JT Project gig tonight in Harlem, and maybe I’d have gone except that I’m heading out to Westbury this afternoon to see Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman—The Turtles–and their annual Happy Together Tour.

I was in Bryant Park when I got Todd’s Facebook invite, directly across the park from Nick’s bench, in the shade and plugged into a power outlet. I wrote back to Todd that I’ve known Mark and Howie as long as I’ve known Nick and Val.

It made me stop for a second to take in the fact that I always refer to Nick in the present tense—that I always relate to him as if he’s still here.

I guess that means he is.

Reflections on Nick Ashford–Part 8

One of my favorite Nick stories—and I’ve mentioned it here before—is how he was homeless when he first came to New York, and slept on a park bench in Bryant Park. Many years later, Val bought a Bryant Park bench and had a brass plaque reading “Nick Ashford Slept Here” affixed to a corner.

A few years back, when CBS Sunday Morning did a feature on Nick and Val, they taped a segment at the bench. They filmed Nick as he walked to the bench, but when they got there—and I’m quoting myself, now–“a rather filthy homeless person was sleeping on it”—much, perhaps, as Nick himself had done. That homeless person, upon closer inspection after he “woke up,” was none other than Yours Truly–much to Nick’s surprise and delight.

Exactly a year ago Bob Merlis and I went to the bench and took pictures of each other napping on Nick’s bench, then posted them. We thought it was the coolest thing, and it was. But it took me almost exactly a year to come up with the idea of a Nick Ashford’s Bench Facebook page, where everyone can go and post their own pictures of themselves and the bench. My hope, of course, is that it will become a tourist attraction, on par with, say, the Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty—which is only as it should be: Nick Ashford wasn’t as big physically, maybe, but he was definitely statuesque and no less monumental.

And no one, no thing, was more New York.

Anyway, I only yesterday thought of creating the Nick Ashford’s Bench Facebook page, and quickly got way ahead of myself. First of all, this website has been under reconstruction for a couple weeks, and  today, out of necessity, I finally figured out how to add another post. Second, I haven’t even figured out how to change my profile pic on my own FB page, let alone put up a background, and when I clicked on the “Create Page” link, just to see where it would take me, I ended up creating the page without actually wanting to—I mean, I wanted to, but not so fast!

I quickly called Val to make sure she was okay with it. My guess is she was either too amused or confused to say no. Then I couldn’t for the life of me find the pics of me and Bob on the bench, so I rushed out first thing this morning and took a selfie—and I hope I never use that God-forsaken word again—of me on the bench, and a background shot of the bench, and managed to get them both up okay. Then Bob found the originals and posted them, but for some reason they wouldn’t show up unless you clicked on the post—until I accidentally figured you could make them visible by clicking on the “Highlights” button and changing it to “Posts by Others.”

In other words, I have absolutely no fucking idea what I’m doing! As if you didn’t know….

Anyway, the hope remains that people will use the page to post their own photos, reflections, thoughts on the most wonderful Nickolas Ashford–and by extension, the most beautiful Valerie Simpson—and all that the magical Ashford & Simpson represent.

And thanks, Val, for the bench. I go there often.