Chapter 5- Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

I was promoting a nightclub and bartending in the early eighties. Eventually I found myself bartending at the Palladium, in downtown New York City, the largest and most popular nightclub in the world, at the time. It was an incredible time for music. MTV was all the rage. I was actually featured on the first MTV music awards, drinking champagne and toasting with Mark Goodman. BB King, Robert Palmer, Robin Williams, Andy Warhol and Deborah Harry, were just a few of the celebrities that I hung with at my bar. Hundreds of other celebrities, in the peak of their careers, came to the club and drank with me. In truth, they were not drinking with me, but at my bar in the Michael Todd Room. It was there that I bartended for many celebrity parties. I was in my early twenties and getting bookings that would have me flying around the country. I stayed in places like the Beverly Hills Hotel.

I photographed everyone from Miss Canada to Andy Warhol, Deborah Harry, Mohammad Ali, Brooke Shields, Patty Duke, Tina Louise, as well as other actors and celebrities I had seen on television most of my life. I was even invited to Tina Louise’s (Ginger on Gilligan’s Island) home for tea and to pray with her minister. That same minister invited me to photograph the King of Tonga and to become his personal photographer, offering me an enormous amount of money. I didn’t, because I was concerned about leaving New York City when my career was exploding. My popularity was growing exponentially and there seemed to be a never-ending source of clients who wanted me.

It was a surreal experience. Not only did I tend bar at the club, but the manager and head of security often had me personally work the VIP list and the ropes at major events like the Directors Guild of America Annual Awards Ceremony. I kept a tux in my locker and I was “that guy.” I had no idea that it was such cool thing. I was just working. Initially I preferred to be inside, at the bar, flipping glasses and meeting beautiful women. After a while, I realized that being, the club gatekeeper and holder of the VIP list made me considerably more desirable. Women thought it was a position of power, but I had no power at all. I simply followed the list, except for that occasional hot model who wanted to slip through.

I was living downtown, on Thompson Street, in a third story walk-up. It was in the heart of the art district where all the movie stars lived back then. There was a definitive artsy and gay tone to the neighborhood and it truly was a neighborhood. It made for easy access to the Palladium, which was located between 13th and 14th street, just a bit uptown. Later, I upgraded to a penthouse duplex when the dollars started rolling in from photography and bartending. All in all, it was a wild New York City lifestyle that lasted for over a year, until I moved back to Long Island. There, I experienced hundreds of chapters of love. Far too many to write about. They were typically short in nature. I simply could not keep it in my pants. I would wake up in the morning and go to the beach with 2-5 international models and shoot their portfolios. By dinnertime I would be at happy hour and then work until four AM. I was going 24/7 for the most part, just occasionally coming up for air. We would always be at the beach before sunrise, as that was the golden hour, so I only had to carry my camera and a reflector. There was no need for bulky lighting setups. At times, I would fool around with one of the models at lunch and then with another while I was bartending, or afterwards.

But there was one girl who captured my heart while I was living in New York City. This was despite the fact that I was completely insensitive to her needs. It was the only time in my life that I was with a girlfriend and still living the playboy lifestyle. I simply could not choose between the two. We were neighbors in the apartment building. Since I was living in a duplex, her second-floor door was right at my first-floor entrance. I thought she used that door because she lived on the second floor. Later, she admitted that the only reason she used it was to intentionally run into me.

She was exceptionally cute and the first Midwest farmer’s daughter I ever met. This is no exaggeration. She truly was a farm girl. For her, the city was a circus and she loved it. She would come out of her door at the same time I did and say sweet things like, “hey neighbor what you cooking?” With that, she invited herself for dinner. We hooked-up every chance we could. I had a balcony facing a huge Upper East Side courtyard, a block or two from Central Park. Her balcony was just underneath mine. I would intentionally go out onto the balcony with my guitar and sing love songs until I got a response from her. I would leave my door open and wait for her to enter.

When she did, I stayed right on the balcony. I wanted her right there. It was an exhibitionist thing. Before you knew it, we were both naked on that balcony. If you had a decent pair of binoculars, or a telescope, you could see everything. We pretty much knew it, but that was what made our relationship so unique. We both loved it. It was kinky and outrageous. We knew others were watching. It was a turn-on and an extreme public display of affection. I never did anything like it prior. I have no idea what motivated me. We said we would never fall in love, that we were just neighbors. But, when your hook-up hundreds of times, sometimes several times a day, you develop feelings for each other. That is when everything went wrong.

After bartending, I was bringing models home in limousines. Sometimes, even two girls at a time. We were making all kinds of noise right above her bedroom. Even though we said it was going to be casual between us, it never truly was. She started to get jealous. When I would sing on the balcony she would say things like “can’t you shut that thing up,” or, “do you have a volume control on that contraption.” She would be steaming and I didn’t understand why she was upset. I thought we were just neighbors who were hooking-up. I was also regularly dating other girls. I was naive enough to think that if I kept the music loud she would have no idea what was going on. We never said anything about being exclusive, but man did she get pissed-off when the music started. I would hear things banging downstairs and all kinds of obscure rantings, but she never said anything to me. Every time I saw her, she was that same cute country girl, “hey neighbor, you have any butter?” which was her way of saying can I come in and can we hook-up. It was always something like that; milk or salt or pepper and it always meant the same thing, great care-free sex. She would refer to me, when her roommates were around, as her sentimental fuck… so why would I have thought anything different?

Of course, over nine months it came to mean more than that. Until I was in the same situation, I had no idea what she was feeling. The first time I heard a man’s voice in her apartment and what sounded like sex, I went into a jealous rage. What made it worse was that I thought I knew who the man was. It sounded like my landlord…our landlord. I was upstairs hooking-up with one of my regular girls from the Palladium and she was hooking-up with our landlord, who was thirty years older?

When I saw her and asked if she had a man over, she denied it completely. She swore I was dreaming or hallucinating. She played it very cool, as if nothing was wrong. Soon I was the one yelling down the balcony, as it became a regular event for them. It got to me. Jealously is a much stronger emotion than love. At one point, my landlord, who I was friendly with, invited me to California to shoot for Vidal Sassoon. I went just to get away from it all. I never had any proof and did not want to approach the subject with him, as I was making a lot of money from him and his associates. Plus, I was not exclusive with her, so what could I really say about it? I was staying at the former Beverly Hills Town Hall, which was a mansion.

There I photographed models from around the world and slept with many of them. I even photographed Sassoon’s daughter and yes, we fooled around at her apartment. I was sort of being set-up with her. Vidal made it known that he approved of me. But, I was surrounded by so many models, who were living at the mansion, that I was hooking up with a different one every day. There were so many that I cannot even remember them all. When I heard my landlord force himself on one of them, I realized the kind of shady individual he was. I left immediately. I began to realize he was sleeping with my neighbor to throw it in my face. He did not know that despite my promiscuity, I loved my neighbor, hook-up, and pseudo-girlfriend. I was just realizing it myself. I had to fly back and see if I could rescue the relationship before he took control of it, or even worse, me.

I flew back to New York. When I got back, my neighbor was in my penthouse. She had packed all my things and put them out the door. She made a deal with my landlord that if she slept with him, she would get my apartment. It was a deal he kept. I was out before sunset and back on Long Island. My heart was broken, but I did not understand why. How could I be hurting so much over this hook-up? We weren’t even exclusive! That Midwest farmer’s daughter played me like a fiddle and taught me a lesson I would never forget. Never play with a woman’s heart. Later, I finally understood that you could not hook-up with another human being, hundreds of times, without it affecting your heart. And, when your neighbor comes looking for butter or milk, know it has nothing to do with baking a cake. She could wind up with your rent controlled apartment, just before it turns into a condo.