Yesterday marked the ninth anniversary of Nick’s passing—August 22, 2011.
If I’m in town on that day I always head over to Bryant Park to sit on the bench with the shiny metal plaque that says “Nick Ashford Slept Here.” Val purchased it some years ago, to commemorate the fact that Nick did in fact sleep in Bryant Park when he first arrived in New York City from Michigan, as he was broke and homeless.
The last couple years I’ve been in Los Angeles on Aug. 22, but COVID got in the way this year. I checked in with Val Friday to see if she’d be there, as she usually is, with daughters Nicole and Asia–and of course, their longtime assistant Tee Alston. But Miss Tee had unexpectedly joined Nick upstairs two weeks earlier, and Val was still shell-shocked and understandably staying home.
So I decided to re-enact history—Nick’s and mine—and called my friend Hae Won Han to document it on her iPhone.
Nick’s history I’ve already cited. Mine is one of the funnest things I ever did.
I don’t know the date, but judging from its YouTube post in 2008, CBS Sunday Morning profiled Nick and Val at least 12 years ago, interviewing them at their home, the Sugar Bar, the White Rock Baptist Church in Harlem where they met, and at Nick’s Bench in Bryant Park. I learned from Tee what time they were scheduled to do the Bryant Park taping and got there a good half-hour early.
Luckily, no one was already sitting on the bench. I promptly took over and lay down on the bench as if I were sleeping. Every few seconds I’d surreptitiously stick my head up to see if anyone was coming, and maybe 10 minutes or so later, Nick, Val and Tee, along with the camera crew, approached the bench—which is on the southern end of the lawn near the merry-go-round—from the northeast corner.
Nick was talking to the producer when he saw what had to appear to be a homeless hobo stretched out on his bench, dead asleep. Just as they were about to rustle me awake, I popped up on my own. To say I surprised the shit out of Nick would be a great understatement.
I must have looked really pathetic, because when Nick finally stopped laughing he said he felt so sorry for me that he was about to give me $50 to move off the bench for a few minutes! If only I’d waited…
I had Hae Won take a pic of me re-enacting my faked snooze on Nick’s Bench, itself a re-enactment of his real ones. She also took one of me wearing a Cleveland International Records ball cap, in tribute to another dear departed friend, the label’s founder Steve Popovich; a t-shirt honoring the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, and a “Good Trouble” mask in memory of John Lewis. I posted the pictures, along with one of me and Hae Won, on Facebook, where an old friend from Billboard, Paul Verna, kindly expressed his certainty that Nick was up there watching.
And, no doubt, “wanting to wake me up!” I replied.