DISCLAIMER: My intention is not to glorify or condone any of my past behavior. I am not proud of it, nor do I regret it. It simply is what it is. My intention is only to give an honest account.
In the spring of 1989 I was given my first party hosting night: Freaky Fridays at Bolido. My name was finally on an invitation. I had arrived. I hosted the night with DJ Keoki and another young promoter named Sean Michael. We were thrown together by the club’s owners, and I felt that they resented me a bit. Keoki thought I was a prima donna, and Sean was a smart, fastidious quiet kid who clearly thought I was a train wreck. A pair of hip-hop promoters, Sean Combs and Jessica Rosenblum, were doing Thursdays at the club. I liked Jessica, but the Combs guy rubbed me the wrong way. There was an exchange between us at a club promotions meeting where he made some disparaging remarks about us.
Michael Alig had left The World, along with his sort-of partner, the club’s promotional director Steve Lewis. This was big news in clubland. The World was notorious for not paying it’s employees. One of the owners, Frank Roccio, had a wicked heroin problem. The staff was sort of a dysfunctional family so people stayed on nonetheless. But I guess some had enough, and the whole thing started to crumble. Apparently on a dare from Roccio and his partner Arthur Weinstein (more about him later), Alig and Lewis had taken on the promotions at Red Zone, a big, square, nondescript new club on West 54th street owned by Maurice Brahms. Brahms had owned the disco era club Xenon and had gone to prison in the tax evasion cases that happened in the wake of Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager’s notorious Studio 54 convictions. Michael kicked off the grand opening with an Outlaw party at the McDonald’s in Times Square. It was a huge 2 level place. The plan was that we would all meet on the second floor at a certain time. Someone brought a mobile sound system, and someone else brought some liquor. The place was mobbed. Michael stood on a table and threw hamburgers around the room. After a while, the police showed up and broke it up, and we all went to Red Zone. This was the first of the new generation of Outlaw parties, and it was all good natured fun. No one got arrested this time.
The McDonald's Outlaw Party, 1989
It turned out that Bolido was somehow operating without all of the proper licensing and it got shut down. The Italian owners (not mob guys, actual Italians) had apparently been warned, but weren’t paying off whoever they needed to and kept opening without getting the licenses, and their time ran out. In those days, you could actually get away with operating an out-of-the-way place or an after hours without any licenses, sometimes for years, but this place was at 18th st and 5th avenue operating in a high profile way without them. So out of a job, I went to work for Steve and Michael at Red Zone. I became Steve Lewis’s assistant. This was not exactly a coveted job in the club world. Lewis was known to verbally abuse his assistants and fire them every other day. But It came with a salary, so I took it. It was a tumultuous situation. No one ever knew what drug Lewis was on but there was a lot of speculation. He always claimed that he didn’t drink or use anything, and I never saw him do anything, but he certainly was erratic and emotionally volatile. He did often get angry and fire me. He was definitely a megalomaniac. But when he was good to me, he was awesome and I learned a lot from him. He didn’t give me too much trouble for being out of my mind every night. It came with the territory.
I felt like I owned New York now. I was proud of my place in the subculture. I had the air of someone who was in the KNOW. I looked down my nose at the squares on the street, and the squares I worked with in the Kumagai offices. Man, they don’t know what it’s like to be FREE, to be a part of this SCENE. It became impossible to show up for work there. I was coming in later and later, if at all. The friends I had made in the office were sad and disappointed. I could see in their faces that they were concerned for me. But I was lost in it. Finally the day came when they fired me. It was painful for the Japanese office manager, Mr. Yakota. He was beside himself. It was like he was burying his first born. It was a bizarre ceremony. Everyone hung their heads in the office. I cleaned out my desk, did a line of coke in the file room and left.
Without a reason to get out of bed, I was now high all the time. The parties started stretching into a 2nd day, then into the next night, which would often be a haze or blackout where I ended up in worse and worse sketchy situations.
The World had stayed open only partially as an after hours. Half of the club was a dilapidated building adjacent to the main club called “IT”, operated by the It Twins, Robert and Tim. They held court and dealt ecstasy. I was there one night, and wandered into the main club where there was a lone group of people gathered at the bar of the cavernous, empty space. I recognized a couple of the people in the group from an acting job I had done. It was an impromptu wrap party for the Abel Ferrara film “King of New York” which had used The World as a location. I spotted Ron Abrams, a legendary make-up artist who had been Rock Hudson’s long time boyfriend. He had worked with everyone and was a beloved figure on set. Ron had really taken me under his wing when we worked together. I went over, excited to see him. I was flying on ecstasy. At first he didn’t recognize me, and then his face sort of half dropped. I was frantically introducing him to all of the after hours ghouls I was with. He took me aside and sort of gently got me focused on what he wanted to say: “You're a good kid” he said, “Please, please, please do not go too far into this underworld.” I was confused. I thought that of all people, he would understand. But he was crestfallen. And so was I. So I retreated back into the other side, and went deeper into that night’s substances.
There was a coke dealer around at this time who called himself “Snowstorm”. He was a silver tongued young brother, who was easily clocked as a con artist (Think David Hampton, the character at the center of the film/play Six Degrees of Separation). A curious thing though: where cocaine was involved, we were oddly willing to endure the most blatant of bogus personalities. Snowstorm would always appear very late in the night. He stopped coming around after one too many people got sick from his drugs. He would literally go into a bathroom and emerge with packets of “coke” that he had prepared moments earlier using whatever powdered substance was under the sink. True story. He should have called himself Ajax.
Back at the Zeckendorf, David and Bradley started voicing their concerns about my drug use. I’m thinking “THESE guys think I have a problem?” They were truly messes, and they were judging ME? I started spending less and less time there, instead crashing a lot at Reuben’s place. He was living in this crazy flophouse on 6th Street with a female spin-off of the It Twins, a pair of girls from Michigan, Liz and Gena, who called themselves the Go-Glo Twins. We didn’t sleep much. We basically hung there after all of the after hours places closed, hoovering up everything in site, and listening to Siouxsie and the Banshees. I tried a few times to crawl into the girls' rooms, but they were wise to me and weren’t having it. Usually present for our all-day binges were Bella Bolski, a flamboyant, scarcastic drag, and Robert Riggs aka “Freeze”, a hilarious Southern queen. We died our hair and pretended that our budget 40 ounce beers were mint juleps.
House music was exploding. Pioneering Djs were playing at Red Zone every night: David Morales, Frankie Knuckles, Mike “The Hitman”, DJ Dimitry. I was hosting nights and helping Michael with his parties. They were epic. There was an upstairs VIP room with a balcony over the back of the main dance room. He would do a “money drop” party where at midnight he would throw piles of cash into the crowd from the balcony. He did filthy mouth contests, bizarre fashion shows, and would have dinners for legends like Leigh Bowery. One time Leigh was there, in an outfit of head to toe tulle with an orb that covered the head and completely obscured it, amorphous arms, orb mid section, orb legs, and orb feet. Like a giant symmetrical poodle. One couldn’t tell if he was facing you or facing away from you. I thought I was talking to him for like 10 minutes in a coke face rant, but it turned out he was facing the opposite direction. For Michael’s birthday we installed carnival rides behind the club and handed out ecstasy. His mom, Elke was in town from Indiana, and got high with us. Michael, Elke, and a new friend of Michael’s, a hilarious, witty, colorful vegetarian girl named Susan Anton (not “The”) ended up at the after hours Save The Robots on the lower east side. Susan and I became instant best friends. She took zero shit from anyone, and was quick to illustrate the ridiculous in any situation. She was a provocateur like Michael and I. I had never met a girl like her. Michael was living at the Riverbank West at 47th and 11th. We were tripping our faces off at 9 am when Robots let out. With the sun blaring down on us and morning rush hour traffic in full swing, we walked the entire distance back to Michael’s apartment from the Lower East Side. Elke had lost her shoes and did the walk barefoot. Susan, who was stone sober, was a good sport and let me squeeze her hand the whole way (and has been holding my hand metaphorically ever since).
Average partiers have their lives, and then they have their party time. They go to bed and wake up for their lives again. Even the most hardcore partiers who hold down a job have some semblance of normalcy (see fashion industry people). When your life and vocation IS partying, and you have no other life really, there’s a strange paradigm shift that happens. In a short time, I had fully transposed my reality. I barely saw the daylight unless it was at the end of the first phase of a night, and I skittered away from it like a vampire into some stranger’s apartment for an impromptu continuation after hours party. I ended up in all kinds of bizarre situations, forced to ride the train home dressed like a total clown, crowded with morning commuters. Emerging from some Midtown condo, twisted on a narcotic cocktail, lumbering through the streets with no idea where I was or how I got there. Cocaine makes for strange relations, and I was amassing quite a menagerie of troubled companions from all strata of New York culture. I had befriended Chris Naess, who was the son of the Greek shipping magnate Arnie Naess. He had a sister, Katinka, who was absolutely stunning. I was desperate to hook up with her. One night, I had relentlessly pursued her back to her family's small glamorous Midtown apartment which was exquisitely preserved from the disco era with lots of white laminate and mirrored walls. There were a couple of random, oblivious cokeheads who were there only for the coke, and another guy who was also clearly pursuing Katinka. He and I both had a supply, and were producing it in some twisted mating ritual, trying to win the maiden’s affection. The other guy seemed to be winning. He kept disappearing into the bedroom with her giggling, closing in on his prey. He was saying some funny shit and spoke with an Australian accent (which I generally found annoying). As a coke party winds down, and someone is trying to get laid, there is almost always an awkward moment where people have to be asked to leave. The bullshit coke chatter stops, a serious tone pervades, and it all screeches to a halt. It was now down to me, some random good-natured dreadlock, Katinka, and the Australian guy. Katinka had made a final retreat into the bedroom, and HE started the wrap-up/kick-out process. The funny thing was, I guess since I saw him as competition, I had never really LOOKED at the guy. So as the dread and I were being ushered out, standing in the doorway, I finally looked at his face. It was Michael Hutchence. I was like “NO WAY DUDE!” and we had a big hug and a laugh. I’m not sure he actually remembered me from a couple of years earlier, or if he was simply going along with it to get the thing over with. But I thought it was hilarious. Fair enough, I thought. He IS Michael Hutchence after all. I had to take a cab with dreadlocks all the way downtown. The dude did all of my remaining coke and I got stuck with the whole tab for the ride.
There were so many after hours at this time. The most famous was the legendary Sound Factory on West 27th Street, where Frankie Knuckles was the resident DJ. The more druggy spots, which were more accessible to me, were within a single block on the Lower East Side and I traversed them in a loop that started at IT at 2nd and C at around 4am. At around 6, I went around the corner to Save The Robots on B between 2nd and 3rd, which was just getting fired up. Robots was a small, 2 floor club with a super tight door system. A guy named Dave Knapp ran the door. He sort of clowned on people in a punk rock way as they came in. The owners, a curt French guy named Denis and his partner Alex, an intense, sexy lady from the Netherlands, were always there with their eye on things. The club had no liquor license, but sold bathtub vodka out of unlabeled plastic water bottles. There was only one bottle behind the bar at any given time and usually only one mixer if you were lucky. The shit was volcanic, but usually one was too high to notice. When the bottle was empty, the bartender would press a buzzer, and a runner with a backpack would bring another bottle in from outside. It was a brilliant system. Although the police busted the place time after time, they could never figure out who was running things, and could never catch them with anything. The upstairs lounge had a weird colorful Asian theme with several inches of sand on the floor. The tiny basement was a sweaty dance floor where people were usually grinding on each other to reggae at deafening levels. There were two bathrooms that obviously always had interminable waits. The legendary Details columnist Stephen Saban often held court in the upstairs room, where the volume allowed actual conversations. I would marvel at his social experiments. He would sit amid a strange mixed group, almost certainly all fully throttled on cocaine: Some B celebrity, an Upper East Side couple, two Lower East Side Puerto Rican homeboys, a tranny, etc… He would play a demented version of the game “Would you rather?”, where he proposed preposterous scenarios for people to choose from. You learned a lot about a person while hearing their logic of why they would choose to allow their best friend to lose sight in both eyes in order to spare themselves the loss of their sexual organs.
I stayed there until it closed, at around 8 or 9, and went around the corner to the Choice, on 3rd between B and C. The Choice was owned by its resident DJ, Richard Vasquez. A dark, cavernous, no frills space with a blinding sound system, the club had only one light on the massive dance floor, trained on a single disco ball in the center. It was all about the music. Legendary house songs were incubated here. Robert Owens was often improvising on a microphone in the DJ booth. There was no alcohol behind the bar, only fruit and juice. Again, there were no licenses. It was in the middle of no man’s land. 3rd Street at that time looked like something out of WW2 Europe. The entire north side of the block was decaying, with buildings literally falling down. Two different outdoor heroin spots with armed guards blatantly operated day and night with lines of junkies going down the street. It was lawless.
Sometimes there was a deviation in the regular routine and a bunch of us would end up at the restaurant Florent in the Meatpacking District. It was a tiny diner with a wicked French influenced menu. They stopped serving liquor at 4, but we had a man on the inside. Our friend, Richard Move, waited tables and would surreptitiously serve us liquor in coffee cups. You would look around and everyone had a coffee cup in front of them. I had many memorable nights there chopping it up with RuPaul in the bathroom. She was the funniest person to sneak off with for a bump of coke in a cramped bathroom. Ever. Hands down.
We weren’t really paying rent at the Zeckendorf, and we got evicted. Mr. Yakota, with a security guard in tow, came to our filthy hovel. It was the afternoon and Bradley and David were laying on futons in the living room, the floor scattered with fast food containers and dirty laundry. With a mixture of sadness and disgust, he had me sign a paper agreeing that we would move out.
I had started messing around with a cute Japanese girl named Yoko who worked at Mars, and she asked me to move in with her. Poor girl. I don’t know what she was thinking…