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"The Bench of Broken Dreams"

The New York Times, 2007

 

Down the block from the White Horse Tavern, where a sign pays tribute to the final whiskey drunk by Dylan Thomas, there sat, until recently, another curious West Village memorial. In front of Panino Giusto, a storefront cafe at Hudson Street near Perry Street that closed last month, was a teak bench bearing a small bronze plaque. "In Memory of Chelica," it read, "Who Loved Coffee and Cigarettes."

 

"It could have been a drag queen, for all I know," said Tom Kennedy, a longtime Village resident who was indulging in Chelica's passions one day over the summer as he sat in front of the cafe. "It was someone very dramatic, in any case."

 

For other habitués, the bench was a reminder of a once-familiar face.

 

"It was for the young girl who committed suicide," said John Gonzalez, whose two pugs waited like the Queen's Guards outside the cafe's door on its last day. "Any time my dogs were here, she'd sit and play with them. Really pretty, sort of Indian-looking, long hair, always smoking cigarettes."

 

Chelica Kimerling, who took her life in early 2005 at age 20, found her daily perch here, making friends of strangers, sipping café au lait, smoking Camel Lights. A modern dancer since childhood, she was easy in her movements, and as natural with a cigarette as Bette Davis.

 

Her parents, Gammy Miller and Ken Kimerling, had moved to Greenwich Village more than 40 years ago because it was a place where jazz smoked at the Five Spot, Pete Seeger and bands of gypsies roamed the park, and antique shops waited around every odd-angled corner. Their daughter's peregrine nature seemed to belong to this earlier incarnation of the Village; a neighborhood long celebrated for its free spirits brought her countless characters and stories.

 

"Pretty much if a person gave her an opportunity to talk to them, she would," said Miyoko Brunner, a friend since grade school. "She never made you feel self-conscious or like you should be saying something. She just kind of edged you along."

 

Chelica, who for years fought depression, especially sought to befriend people with troubles of their own, among them a man whose attire has varied from women's wear to a kaffiya and Roman sandals and who often carries a boom box while engaging in violent monologues that sometimes disintegrate into curses at pedestrians.

 

When asked recently about Chelica, he launched into an obscenity-laden rant about the Iraq war, began to walk away, and then turned briefly. "She was one in a million," he said.

 

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Read the full article at The New York Times' website.