Portraits by Jill DeGroff
© Saloonartist.com

PAUL MEERES

He knew everyone in Tallahassee: the professors, the laborers, the musicians, the cops, white, black, rich, poor. There was always a pint of Ronrico Rum in his back pocket. Before the first sip, he’d always spill a pinch for the demons. launch into a diatribe on everything from history to social pathology. He loved to tell stories and he could capture a slew of characters in a matter of minutes, from redneck to gay dancer, street pimp to Jewish mother; he could mimic Geechee dialect as easily as King’s English, and the more he drank, the more he’d slip in and out of characters who murkied the boundaries between his fifty different selves. It was always a great relief when Paul finally lapsed back into his eloquent Island voice, his sanity momentarily returned.

As a child, he bounced between Mom in Harlem and Dad in the Bahamas. His father, Paul Meeres Sr., was known as “The Brown Valentino”, and owned an exclusive nightclub in Nassau back in the 1930’s. It served a strictly white clientele and attracted celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner. Paul was too young and dark to hang around his daddy’s club. They’d shoo him out but he always snuck back in. Bitten by the show-biz bug, he became a professional dancer, fire-eater, snake charmer, and Conga player. For years Paul lived like a gypsy, traveling with film and theatre productions throughout Europe and Scandinavia. By the time I knew him, he had ex-wives scattered from Harlem to Sweden, and ex-patriot friends in Paris and Tangiers, among them, Eartha Kit, Cab Calloway, Harry Belafonte, and Sarah Churchill. Paul liked to claim that Sir Winston keeled over with a heart attack after learning he was dating his daughter, Sarah.

The last time I saw Paul, he was standing on Second Avenue in the wee hours of the morning, trying to hail a cab uptown. Several passed by, none would stop. After awhile, he crossed the street and tried to hail one going downtown. Still no cabby would stop. Exasperated, he strode into the middle of the street and began jumping up and down, flailing his arms like a beast, snarling at the honking cars. Then, with all the grace of a lion he leapt into the air and landed with a series of perfectly executed pirouettes, teasing the twilight with his madness.                 – JD