Chapter 27 – Love Conspiracy

I was getting in and out of quick hook-ups and quasi relationships faster than I could get to know many of the women I was screwing around with. I knew I had to slow down. I was going night and day. What I wanted was a real girlfriend, like my friend from Allentown, but we all know how that ended up. I seemed to attract some of the most beautiful woman in the world, but every one of them seemed to have issues, or maybe the issues were with me. I started on a period of intense self-evaluation and psychotherapy, wondering why I kept choosing the wrong women. I was frustrated. I wanted a soul mate, a wife, not just a girlfriend. I was approaching the age when most men and women start to dream about having their own families. It seemed like I was a better lover and sexual partner than a life partner. Or, was I just choosing the wrong women? Mostly, they were choosing me. Typically, I was just going along for the ride and I was still as naïve as ever.

By this time, I was a seasoned New York City bartender. I was working twenty-four seven, trying to build my photography business while bartending six days a week. I did not bartend on Sundays, as traditionally no one would put me on the schedule. I never thought much of it. I figured the bar was closed after the two late nights on Friday and Saturday. I would shoot at the beach all day, rush to the bar for the corporate networking events that started at five and then bartend until four in the morning, often getting home two hours later. I was working twenty hours a day most of the time. I was also hitting the psychologist twice a week. He told me I was playing the role of a rescuer in my relationships. He helped me recognize that I was naturally attracted to women with broken wings. I started to re-evaluate my playboy lifestyle. But it would be decades before I could manage my obsession with sex and my attraction to wounded souls.

For a short time, I dated many fewer women. The experience with my friend from Allentown had a lot to do with that. I was also a bit wiser by then. At least I thought I was. Some of the back-story, I have not shared in my chapters of love, will help clarify where I was in my life at that time. After finding out my roommate was doing blow every day, I moved from Hell’s Kitchen to SOHO. I thought I would put some distance between us, despite the fact he was a good friend. He was in and out of rehab. His girlfriend was doing so much blow she might as well have been a dealer. I had no other real friends in the city and was starting to get lonely. All the parties and sex in the world doesn’t replace genuine friendship or love.

My new landlord was a friend of my former roommate from Hell’s Kitchen. He made the introduction for me. I was living in a rent-controlled walk-up on Thompson Street, in the heart of the Village. One night I was asked to bartend on a Sunday and told I didn’t need to bring my bartenders uniform. The uniform consisted of black pants and a custom woven shirt that cost well over three hundred dollars. They were black and made from a water-resistant material. They were from some famous designer. I wondered why we didn’t need our uniforms that night, but I didn’t think much of it. I went to work in one of my black shirts as a backup. When I got there, the place was empty. I went up to the Michael Todd room where I was told I would be working alone for a few hours. I was told to take my shirt off. I was like “what? Take my shirt off?” My manager handed me a white collar that had a bow tie attached to it. The entire staff was shirtless wearing only these collars. The ladies wore tuxedo vests without shirts that didn’t leave much to the imagination. I put the collar on and thought it was going to be a hell of a night. How was I going to kick my sex obsession if I was half naked? I thought it was going to be one of those nights when I went home with another fan. All the same, I wanted to buy some new photographic lenses, so the money would come in handy. Plus, I just moved to SOHO and although it was a three-story, rent controlled, walk up, it was still expensive.

When the guests arrived, they seemed somehow different than the usual crowd. Also, they seemed to arrive at pretty much the same time. We went from empty to packed, so packed they had to close the entrance almost as soon as they opened. But there was more to this night than I knew. It was gay night and I became the toast of the bar. It was tradition, or so I was told, to put the straight bartenders who were working their first gay night at the bar by themselves. It was an initiation of sorts. I called the manager and asked why he put me on for a gay party. He told me that it was an every Sunday night event and that I would make twice as much money as I did on any other night. Plus, he was short a bartender. That appeased me, so I said fuck it and just bartended. It was strange that many of the patrons seemed to know who I was. Many knew my name. They were throwing huge tips at me no matter what size the drink order. It was literally raining money at my bar that night.

I made thousands of dollars. For the first time at the Palladium I was treated like a piece of ass. There were some straight people there, as well as people who loved in many different ways. However, most in the crowd were “Boy George gay” and wore absolutely crazy costumes. I had never seen men kiss and be so openly affectionate. It was not my scene, but I sucked it up and kept bartending. Then my landlord showed up and told me that I was going to have to find another place to stay, as she needed the apartment for herself. She even asked if she could stay with me that night. She also asked if I saw two bottles of prescriptions in the medicine cabinet. They were the same two bottles of pills my bartender friend found and I told to take. Apparently, she was the source of those Valium and Quaaludes. Holy shit! I thought now I was going to have to pay for them! So, I said, “No, I haven’t seen any prescriptions.”

After one of the weirdest and most lucrative nights of my bartending life, I went home with my landlord. She told me she had a friend who had tons of apartment buildings that were rent controlled and that, as a favor, she would introduce me. We slept with each other that night. It was nothing to write home about. She took a few pills and jumped me in the middle of the night. It was strange because she was much older than I was, maybe the oldest woman I ever slept with at that point. She had huge breasts, but they were hard as rocks. They must have been breast implants prior to the process being perfected. They stuck straight out. She kept calling me “Papi, Papi, Papi” and speaking to me in Spanish. She was from Puerto Rico. Eventually, I found out she was a prescription drug dealer long before it became popular.

Like so many others who hung out at the Palladium, she was making a living selling blow and prescription drugs. When I realized she was the one supplying my uptown friend, I knew I was going to be better off moving to one of the rent controlled apartments as soon as I could. She kept putting blow on my chest and snorting it. She wanted me to do some, but I had a bad experience with it. Frankly I was afraid of it. She would snort a line off my chest from a clear glass tube she wore around her neck that had a tiny gold spoon attached to the inside of the cap. She would stick it up my nose and say, just take a bump. Like a moron, I did. She started to rub it on my dick and suck it off. It started off being exhilarating, but after a while it just made me numb. She just wanted more and more sex. Apparently, blow would make a man last longer. We did it a few more times with her always on top, calling me Papi. The entire experience was surreal. It was one of the weirdest nights of my life. I had to keep from laughing at her. It was j comical.

The next morning, she wanted me to pack up my things and leave. She told me to call her friend. At first, I refused. I told her I would have to see him and sign a lease before I left. Plus, I just moved there from Hell’s Kitchen and moving in the city was a bitch. I had to do it with taxis and the subway. That same day I went to her friend’s skyscraper and he just handed me the keys to a 3-bedroom apartment on fifty-seventh street. He asked me if I knew how to paint. I said “Sure, my father taught me how to paint when I was young.” That’s all it took. Now, I had my own apartment on 57th Street, right by the bridge. It looked more like a hotel suite than an apartment, because it was completely furnished and had mirrors everywhere. I moved in a few days later. The few days I stayed in SOHO, my landlord crashed with me. The entire time she kept asking to join me in bed. I wanted out of there as soon as possible. I just couldn’t get past that Papi thing, or how she was obsessed with my body. She was getting off more on the blow than from me. I might as well have been a vibrating mannequin.

She was pissed when I didn’t want to sleep with her anymore. She was yelling all kinds of shit at me in Spanish, pissed she couldn’t find her blow. I sure as hell didn’t have it. I was sure she snorted the entire vile off my cock, but she swore she had a few grams left. By that time, I hadn’t slept much in days as that shit was cut with something like speed. It made both my heart and brain race, I didn’t like it. There was one benefit. After a twenty-hour day of both shooting at the beaches in the morning and then bartending all night, it would help me stay awake. When the other bartenders who did bumps regularly, heard I was doing it too, they started openly breaking it out behind the bar every night and trying to drag me into the bathrooms with them. I was no longer an outsider. I was one of them, snorting bumps most every night at about 2 am, to make it through my shift.

Living on fifty- Seventh Street by 1st Avenue was boring. It was nothing like the art district downtown where there were tons of restaurants and boutiques. It was a community downtown. Here it seemed like a business district. Plus, I was near the bridge and the cars were loud. I couldn’t leave my windows open without hearing the commotion. To make it worse, there was no natural light and no place to comfortably shoot. But, all the same, it was going to be my apartment and all I had to do to get It, was to paint the place. I didn’t even have to pay rent. So, I started painting.

It was not long after I started painting that my landlord started sending over a very hot model to bring me supplies. He asked if it was ok if she stayed with me from time to time. He said he was trying to get rid of her. She was one of those girls who had very little motivation. All she wanted to do was hang out and party. She would always bring tons of blow and booze with her. Just when I thought I got away from my drug-dealing landlord, I now had a drug obsessed roommate of sorts. She would come over and try and blow me most every time. There was no mystery or romance just, “do you want a blow job?” It was pretty much the first thing she would say to me when she came over. Like most men, I accepted every one of them. In between painting, she would blow me several times a day, without ever asking for anything.

She wasn’t a very successful model. She was in a different class than most of the models I would photograph. She was a decent runway model, until her coke habit started to get in the way. After a while I called my landlord and asked him if he could find another place for her. He refused and instead said he had another place for me. It was an uptown duplex with cathedral ceilings, a balcony and skylights. It was perfect for a photo studio. He said all I had to do was to paint it and manage the building; I could pay my rent by supervising contractors. I thought it was a great idea. Growing up I learned a lot about construction from my dad. We renovated so many bathrooms and kitchens. I had enough knowledge to pull this off.

After only being on 57th Street for a few weeks, I was moving uptown, quite close to Central Park. Pretty amazing! My new landlord seemed cool and he gave me a lease, which I didn’t even read carefully, I just signed it. My new coked-up model friend helped me move my things to my new prestigious penthouse duplex. I was feeling like, “The Man” now. I ran my photography studio from there, but shot at the beaches most weekends. I was bartending seventy to eighty hours per week and was now also managing the renovation of a sixty or seventy-unit building. I went from not liking blow and fearing it, to taking frequent bumps, just to just to stay awake through the now twenty-hour plus work day. I was getting it for free from the coked-up model and the other bartenders. Just about everyone at the Palladium had it. It was the eighties and blow seemed to be part of the NYC culture at that time. It certainly had taken over the entertainment industry.

I was living a photographer’s dream. Now that I had my own studio, models were coming to me around the clock. The agencies didn’t even make appointments, as I had an open call daily. From two to four pm the sun was in a bad position for shooting, so I just met with models anytime they rang my buzzer. That was when I tried to rest. I would get to the bar by five for happy hour and business networking. I was invited to many high-end corporate parties and I always had some model on my arm. Sometimes, even two. Often, models would come for a call and just throw themselves at me before I even took my camera out. There were many days and nights spent servicing women from around the world. I wrote about a few of them that were more than quick hook ups. I don’t remember them all. I was practically a gigolo, as they were always bringing me gifts. The young models from around the world, many just eighteen, were equally sexually free. This was about when AIDS became a real threat, so I used protection almost every time. If I knew the model was a virgin, I would make an exception. I learned that virgins did not get as wet as non-virgins, until after the first time. I started to feel as if the virgin models were telling each other about me and I became the go to guy to lose one’s virginity to. It was an unbelievable time.

But then I started to fall in love with my Midwest farmer’s daughter – neighbor and it was also not too long after my model friend from Allentown was raped by her agent. I was still very concerned about the city and how devious people could be. After I punched out that bartender for giving me acid on a piece of chewing gum, I was fired from the Palladium. But now that I had a studio, and I was in high demand and shooting full time, it didn’t much matter. By that time, I had supervised the renovation of most of the bathrooms and windows in the building, even getting some of my childhood friends’ contracts to perform the work. But, I was still burning the candle at both ends, scheduling photo shoot after photo shoot in addition to setting up exhibitions at clubs and restaurants all over the city. After I left the Palladium I no longer was given free bumps by the bartenders. I got most of it from the coked-up model who was relentless in her quest to see me as often as she could. She would bring me coke whenever I wanted, with a side order of head. I started to realize when I didn’t have blow, I would not only crave it, I had to sedate myself until I got more. I was addicted. One day when I asked my friend to bring me a gram or two she said, “you have to get it from the boss this time.” I was like…”the boss? Who’s the boss?” She quickly replied, “Our landlord. Who do you think is paying for all the blow I’m giving you.” And that’s when the problems began.

I went to see my landlord. He was no longer the nice guy who just wanted someone to watch his building and paint his apartments. He wanted to know how I was going to pay for the thousands of dollars of coke he was sending over. I was so incredibly naïve. I had no idea he was playing me. He kind of laughed it off and then said, “Just do me a favor and we are even. Take this cash to the racetrack and bet on this horse. Once you get the ticket give it to the guy in the hat by window. Once you give him that ticket, we are even.” I said what if the horse doesn’t win. He told me not to worry, that it would. I went to the track, placed the bet, gave the ticket to that guy in the hat and my debt was paid. I checked and the horse did win, so the fix was in. I started to realize it was not just people in the entertainment business who were obsessed with blow. Even millionaires and real estate tycoons were doing it. It just seemed like the entire city was hooked on blow, including me.

I started to shoot editorials for magazines regularly with designs from Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Henry Grethel, and numerous other designers. The Stock Market was selling my photos to Fortune 500 companies. There were huge paychecks attached to those sales. I was still modeling here and there, occasionally for GQ. However, the city was getting played out and I longed for my true home, Long Island.

Despite being home sick, all was going well. I was becoming a celebrity photographer. I frequently traveled between NY and LA to shoot catalogs, fur coats, Miss Canada and “Miss Everything.” More and more pageant contestant models were coming out of the woodwork. I just didn’t have the time to photograph or even interview them all, so they started to bribe me with travel and sex. Meanwhile, my Midwest farmer’s daughter, who lived next door and who I was falling in love with, was doing blow with her roommates. I must have been juggling a hundred different women at that point. My landlord kept asking me to come to his skyscraper to hang out. I didn’t have the time and I was more than a little leery of him, knowing he was doing blow and feeding it to many models. He asked me if I liked the blowjobs from the girl who was supplying me with blow. It became obvious that he was up to more than just dealing.

Shortly after I went to Hollywood for an assignment for Vidal Sassoon I learned the full truth. My landlord was connected to some very bad people, including the agent who raped my friend. When I got back to New York, my girlfriend had moved into my apartment! Now things started to make sense. My landlord was working with that deplorable agent to recruit girls, promise them careers, lend them money, get them addicted to cocaine, and then turn them into high end prostitutes. This was his major source of income. He took all the money he made illegally and laundered it in real estate. He was a pimp, drug dealer and a criminal. He maintained all the apartments so he had a place for his coked-up models to live and work. He was running a prostitution ring. His girls were thousand dollar plus a night call girls who he got addicted to coke and then were blackmailed to pay off their bills. They would threaten them, even rape them, if they did not pay.

When I moved out, he asked me for back rent and told me to give it to the model agent who raped my friend. I never even knew he was friends with that crook. I was terrified but I stood my ground and told him “I don’t owe you a dime because I painted and took care of your building as we agreed.” He responded by telling me we could forget any back rent if I pushed a guy, who was going to testify against him, off the train tracks. I wanted no part of it. I told my father the entire story. He went to the city that very day and I never heard from my landlord again. My father probably saved my life. Dad was tough that way. So, I left NYC and moved back in with my parents. I confessed to him about snorting blow. He cried and I swore I would never do it again. And, I never have and have preached about the dangers of drugs every since including counseling many friends who were addicted to get into treatment.

I started my life over at a film laboratory in NYC, New York Film Works. I was paying off my father who fronted me some money. It was a huge blow to my ego to have to start over, making minimum wage. However, I eventually obtained an amazing education from the top photographers in the city on a variety of proprietary lighting and film processing techniques. Also, over time, I learned how to print and use every darkroom tool in the business. I was now smarter and humbled by the experience. It was not soon afterwards that I met my rock star girlfriend, on the train, while commuting to work. I didn’t have a car or even bus money, so I walked three miles every day to the train station and back. I had not saved a penny. I spent everything I made as a top photographer, partying and on women. It was good therapy to walk. After a few months, I stopped thinking about and craving blow. Eventually I eliminated every single NYC friend, concerned that they were part of that group of notorious people intentionally ruining peoples’ lives to turn them into slaves and worse, unwilling prostitutes.

This was the point in my life that I started getting crazy feelings in my chest including pain and tremors. It started when I was living in the city. It felt as if I was going to have a heart attack and I was having issues breathing. I thought that I was self- destructing from all the drugs, booze, twenty-four hour back-to-back work days, and the wild partying with women all night long. I went back to being an athlete and tried to start running again, but eventually was not able to do much more than walk. That was a sign that it wasn’t the partying that was causing the breathing issues. It was much worse. It was not long afterwards that I fell in love with my rock star fiancé. It was also the time I learned why I had all that pain in my chest, issues breathing, and growths all over my elbows. I was told I was dying.