Image courtesy of Karsten Staiger Image courtesy of Karsten Staiger
By Laura Lee Flanagan




“I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody,
you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” – 
Harry Burns, When Harry Met Sally

 

Harley  and I met during the hardest periods of both of our lives; and that is saying a lot because he had a very crazy life, and although his took place on the Lower East Side and mine took place on the Upper East Side, there was no shortage of crazy in mine as well.

The first year we were together, we have often joked that it was like being on a life raft; me and him and his kids, all holding onto each other in a storm of personal, and in Harley’s case, media drama.

One of the earliest pieces I wrote for New York Natives — when it was a young blog that I was attending to night and day in the spring of 2011 — was called “Park Avenue Punk.” It was the first of a little series I started, writing about my experiences with the NYC hardcore and punk scene in the mid- to late ‘80s. I was an angst-ridden, too-old-looking-for-my-own-good 13-year-old when I started floating around CBGBs and Tompkins Square Park. It was about a year before the CBGBs matinees started jumping, when every kid from CT or NJ started high tailing it to the LES. There were still the vestiges of “how it was.”

ABC land still looked like the South Bronx, and me and my runaway friend from the “mainline” in Philly were sleeping in squats at night, smoking weed in Tompkins Square Park after she left work at Andy’s Cheapies, and hanging with Raybeez and Jimmy Gestapo at the Pyramid Club where they ran the door until the wee hours of the morning. Then I would saunter back to Astor Place and take the 6 back to the tranquility of the UES.

I “sort of” met Harley at that time.

I had gone to a summer “arts” camp in CT, and was unceremoniously kicked out for smoking weed with my friend Phillip Leeds. Phillip was a few years older than me, and lived on the Upper West Side. For some reason my parents thought it was fine that I spend the rest of the summer in the City, hanging out with the guy I was thrown out of camp with–go figure.

He took me to see the Cro-Mags that fall. They played at L’Amour in Brooklyn and of course, hearing “Age of Quarrel” live for the first time…I was blown away.

By the following summer I was completely entrenched downtown. I “lived” downtown for the most part and went home to shower, sleep now and again, and oh yeah… go to school–the all-girls private school I had been going to since Kindergarten.

I was wild and rebellious in many ways, but fiercely self-protective, and always smart about covering my ass. That’s always been my nature, so I didn’t do a lot of the stupid shit young girls did and do. It just wasn’t my way. Maybe that’s part of why I am who I am today, and not a casualty of my youth like so many people I know, rich and poor.

It was a “thing” I guess, that Harley would let people walk his dog Reiner. He was like, the neighborhood dog. So one day in the sweltering heat, my friend Kira, her boyfriend and I asked Harley to take his dog for a stroll and he handed him over.

That’s the first time we “met.”

We walked the dog west on St. Marks from A to 3rd. We got to Ray’s Pizza and as I stood in the sun waiting for her boyfriend to get a slice, I fainted. Yes. I hit my head on a pole, dropped the dog’s leash and fell to the ground.

I woke up about 15 minutes later in the back of the pizzeria with Kira in my face panicking. Of course the first thing out of my mouth was “Where’s the DOG!” Harley had a memorable reputation by that time and I really didn’t’ want to be the idiot who killed his dog.

Her boyfriend had grabbed the dog. We walked him back; I handed him over and walked quickly away. I didn’t’ see Harley again until 2012.

Over the next 25 years I did some stuff: graduated from college, lived in Italy, went to graduate school and received my PhD, went to law school, got married (twice), received my dual citizenship with Italy, practiced law on Wall Street; and a few other things.

In 2011 I started a blog called New York Natives, and that brings me back to “Park Avenue Punk.” In the first piece I wrote for the series, I described some of the characters that inhabited that space in time and of course, I mentioned Harley.

I also mentioned a place called “C-Squat.”

When we were kids, my friend and I found a squat that she wound up living in until it burned to the ground one December night; the day after she and I had slept there with another friend named Carey Sanders. Cary’s body was pulled from the building that next day, so burnt they couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. I saw that on the news during a Christmas party at my house uptown.

In late 2011 a guy named Bill Cashman contacted me online. Bill said he lived in a building that was today called “C-Squat” and he was writing some sort of history of the building and saw my article. Apparently there had been a lot of conflicting stories about which building was which and where it was located exactly. He said my account matched another he had heard and wanted to talk to me.

I agreed to meet and of course, selected a very public place to do so… uptown. Bill and I met; he was lovely. We spoke for a good long while and decided I needed to go downtown with him and see the block to really be able to recall well what I remember of the location.

A few weeks later I met him in Tompkins Square Park and we walked east together. He had some familiarity with New York Natives and suggested I reach out to Harley to do a Native Icons story about him and New York Hardcore.

I thought that would be a great idea; so I reached out. Harley wrote back and agreed to do the interview.

Harley and I met “again” on March 7, 2012 at the home of my NYN co-founder Camilla Webster. It was such a strange meeting, looking back.

I went downstairs and stood in front of this super swanky UES building between Park Avenue and Madison Avenue waiting for this person I hadn’t known about or seen for a million years; random and strange. And then to see him walking toward me on 64th street—so out of place in the environment…it was slightly surreal.

He realized it was me, approached me with his arms open, gave me a hug and up we went to do the interview. By the end of the interview he told me about the memoir he had been writing and that he needed an editor. He knew my background and asked if I would look at some of it. I agreed.

By 2012 my marriage was mangled; the 14-year relationship I was in was ending. By the end of March my father became ill, and as it turned out, it was the illness that precipitated his death in August of 2016. It was a very tumultuous time in my life.

Strangely, at that same time, Harley’s 14-year relationship with the mother of his two sons Harley and Jonah was ending — and ending very badly.

During those crazy few months in the spring of 2012, Harley and I started working on the book together. I agreed to edit the book; how could I not? From what he sent me I could tell that this book would be critical and I knew I could help him get it to where he wanted.

I learned about his life and his current situation, and he learned about mine. We were very sympathetic to each other and we became friends and started to trust each other.

IMG 3473 628x628 Offbeat: When Harley Met Laura
Image courtesy of Flanagan Family

Then Webster Hall happened.

On the evening of July 6th, 2012, I was having dinner with my ex-husband at a French restaurant on Lexington Avenue just near Lenox Hill Hospital where we thought my father was dying. I looked down at my phone and saw that Harley called. He didn’t leave a message. I tried to call him back but there was no answer.

We finished dinner and left. At around 11:00 p.m. I received a call from Bill Cashman asking me if I had seen the news — about Webster Hall, about Harley. I hadn’t, so I went online.

I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe any of it. I had been working with this guy for months by that point. I knew how much he adored his kids. I knew he didn’t drink or do drugs. I knew he just received his black belt from Renzo Gracie. I knew what the papers were saying was bullshit.

I called Camilla the next day (my birthday). She’s a journalist. She was all over it. She told me I had to go downtown to the “Tombs” and find out what happened. I was working with him; I had to find out what happened from him.

I waited until Monday and I went downtown. I am an attorney and a resourceful one. When I got downtown I learned that he had already been moved to Riker’s Island. I am a New York native, but I didn’t really know where that was. But when I am on a mission, I get shit done.

I hailed a cab, put Riker’s in my GPS, and told the driver how to get there.

When I arrived I learned that I would have to get an attorney pass or go in with the general population, which they urged my not to do (in my Upper East Side private-girl-school skirt and blouse “uniform”).

I wound up heading out to the office that issues the attorney passes and they told me I had to return the next day to get one; so I did.

In the interim I called the managing partner of the firm with which I was then affiliated and told him what I was doing. Trusting my judgment, God bless him, he gave me a letter from the firm, which allowed me to have the pass to get onto the island with my car, as a lawyer.

I drove out the next day, an experience I will never forget.

It reminded me of a neglected public school from the ‘70s — vintage lockers for visitors and all — and I was the only one there. I told the guards who I was and who I was there to see. I was prepared for any number of circumstances. I waited in what looked like a locker room next to the room with the guards and the metal detectors for about 10 minutes.

My mind was racing when a curt black woman officer directed me to a pudgy young white officer standing in front of a metal detector. He smiled at me earnestly, asked if I had left my cell phone and/or any digital devices in the locker with my personal belongings. I nodded and he waved me through the detector. He handed me a pad of paper and a pencil. He continued smiling as he opened the door to a tiny interview room with a plastic chair, countertop and a bullet-proof glass window in front with air holes shot though it.

He told me I could have all the time I needed. I was nervous.

I sat, then stood, then sat, then stood, and the door on the other side of the glass finally opened. A very worn-out and un-shaven Harley Flanagan walked in, eyes down, adjusting his prison-issue jumpsuit before looking up to see who was in front of him.

“Hi! Wait, you don’t do this kind of law.” He smiled nervously but there was a sense of relief in it. He started apologizing for his dirty jumpsuit, which he explained he had borrowed from some big angry Puerto Rican inmate who he was sure he would tangle with before the day was out; but I couldn’t focus on the words. I was having an out-of-body surreal “how is this my life?” moment while he talked.

“What are you doing here? When they told me my attorney was here, I thought it was my public defender, and thought “fuck” this must be some serious shit if he came all the way out here to see me.”

I explained what had happened over the past few days and I reminded him that he was supposed to stay at my house the next week, when I had heard about Webster Hall, and wasn’t going to let the papers tell me the story.

We spent about two hours talking about Webster Hall, and everything else in between. When I left and looked at the “notes” I had taken, they were like a child’s. Everything was disjointed and made no sense, like I was hearing every other word. It didn’t matter. I heard what I needed to hear.

That summer ended. By fall Harley and I were on the life raft together. We were inseparable.

We supported each other completely through the chaos of our personal lives and the resolution of Webster Hall. Over the next few years, we finished the book…and then finished the book again…and then finally really finished the book in 2015.

We were married on July 28, 2015. And like Harry and Sally “we had this really wonderful wedding,” and there was in fact, coconut cake involved.

 Offbeat: When Harley Met Laura
Image courtesy of Karsten Staiger
DSC 1987 628x506 Offbeat: When Harley Met Laura
Image courtesy of Francesco Gadoy

The craziest part of it all is that you just don’t know what you don’t know. Life and relationships and the possibilities that open are so unpredictable and though on the surface of things, there may seem to be no connection, there can actually be the deepest connection of one’s life.

For us both, it’s been worth the wait.