My last day waiting tables at the St. Moritz, I watched a homeless man emerge from central park, purposefully cross through traffic on 57th street and walk directly up to an elegant older lady sitting with her son at an outdoor table. He asked her for money, and when she politely refused, he put his cigarette out on her cheek. Boy was that fun. Then I got fired.
I had found an apartment share in the Village Voice. Bizarrely, it was with a guy from Indianapolis named John Sarno who had written some plays for my home theater group, The Phoenix, an offshoot of the Steppenwolf in Chicago, and the most progressive theater in Indianapolis. The apartment was a railroad flat with the bedroom in the far back, which was mine. John slept in a loft bed constructed directly above the front door. He was an insomniac and was very agitated and excitable. He lived on a diet of melon. Only melon. I have never heard of this diet before or since. It was one of those NY situations where stuff was piled everywhere. A small dresser on top of another dresser, with newspapers stacked on top of that. A television on a chair with a lamp on top. Nuts. We weren’t a good match. I was bringing girls home, and he would angrily leap from his loft bed, nude, and chastise me. It was not a sexy situation. After one month, I moved out. My main memory of that apartment was that EVERY single day for 2 weeks, the song that woke me on my alarm radio was “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. A perfect way to start a hangover. I smashed that radio into a million pieces.
I figured that since I sucked as a waiter, I would try something else. New York had at that time had an unemployment office where you could go if you actually wanted a job, and they would find you one. It was not a very busy office. It looked like the set of an employment office out of a 1940s movie. Metal desks, huge steel file cabinets, and old fashioned fans. An agent would sit with you and go through index cards of available jobs until something clicked. I found a job as a temporary clerk for a huge Japanese real estate development firm. The Japanese executives would take me to lunch and put bizarre foods in front of me and wait expectantly while I tried them, and then laugh and discuss my reactions in Japanese. I have no idea what I was eating. I was still auditioning for things, but I needed to make money. They found me entertaining, so they kept me around.
I started going out to clubs, hoping to find my people. I had been to clubs in Indianapolis. My friends and i used the stipple brush from my theatrical makeup kit to put makeup beards on our faces to get past the door security. It actually worked. Our cover was blown though when one of us made out with a girl and the beard got smeared.
The clubs in NY were slightly different. After getting turned away a few times, I figured out that I wasn’t really dressed right, so I had to start building a new wardrobe. I would watch the people who WERE getting in, and try to emulate their outfits. Slowly I assembled an outfit that got me past the door. Finally.
Michael Alig was doing parties in the basement of the Tunnel at 27th and the West Side Highway, a cavernous place which had once been a repair shop for subway trains. The subway tunnel was still exposed at one end, lit up and ominous. I talked Sizemore into going with me, but we went on the wrong night. I was struck at the mix of people there: black, white, gay, straight. It was awesome. It felt like a living, visceral version of things I had seen on television. That night, I met this cute black girl who I went back to see the following week. She was friends with a group of fantastic, flamboyant, energetic, hilarious, gay kids from Harlem and the Bronx who were members of the Houses of Extravaganza, Labasia, Pendavis, etc. These were to become my first friends in New York…
They accepted me immediately and unconditionally, and taught me how to jump the train without getting caught, how to sneak into clubs, and how to protect my neck in general. I started hanging around with them. They were extremely entertaining, and as I was straight and they were all gay, there was no competition for the cute girls that were around. These kids loved to dance, and knew all the music. The songs were foreign to me, but it was exhilarating. House music was in it’s infancy and there wasn’t enough to fill an entire night, so DJ’s were playing a mix of later disco stuff,some new wave, and other stuff to make it work as a whole set. Anytime a new house track came out and was played, there would be a major buzz that very night. “Did you hear that???”
One night some club kids came through the Tunnel handing out fliers for a party hosted by Alig at another club called The World. It was on the Lower East Side. These kids were outrageous, dressed up in ridiculous costumes and rolling through the club like a mobile circus. Absolutely insane. The flier said “X Marks The Spot” and said something about punch being served at midnight. These were the kids I was looking for.
Party Up: The Tunnel, 1988