Chapter 34 – Tripped Out Love

After my tomboy girlfriend had enough of New York City, I was still having a great deal of fun. While it was terrifying to see a person go through such a horrific experience, she was alive and smarter for it. I can’t swear to it, but I think I saw her on a few television commercials as well as in a television series. Knowing that she was succeeding, or at least making some headway, was a relief. It was also part of the reason I continued to stay in the city.

Unfortunately, her earlier experience would be far from the worst I would see. At the time, I was bartending and being treated like a rock star. I loved every minute of life. I would wake up at dawn and photograph models at sunrise, take a quick shower and make it to the early business-networking bartending shift. I’d work through the early morning, closing out the registers and counting out the drawers. After the FBI raided our registers and gave us all polygraphs, only a few of us from the original crew were left. The others, who they caught stealing or drug dealing, were fired. The few of us who were honest, became the default head bartenders at each bar. They let go almost the entire bartending staff and quickly hired some great new bartenders. The ones who were fired continued to hang out at the club, selling drugs or promoting their modeling or acting careers. In the 80’s, it was about being seen by someone who could help advance your career, or the next hook-up.

One night, I was uncharacteristically working the main bar. That bar was predominantly for the tourists. You had to know someone to get to the upper level bars. If you got to the next level, you needed to know someone to get to the ones that were even more private. There was VIP and then private VIP, up to seven levels and specific bars. The most exclusive was the Michael Todd Room Bar. That was the one I worked at most of the time. Just like in the movies, we would flip glasses and bottles and entertain our customers any way we could. We did not originate the practice, but we did make it popular in the eighties. Hollywood and Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail, made it even more visible. Regardless, we had a shit load of fun throwing glasses twenty feet into the air and catching them, spinning bottles in our hands and using Sambuca to light our fingers on fire.

While I was there, people like Robin Williams, Robert Palmer, BB King and a ton of other celebs, politician and famous athletes came to my bar. Even Deborah Harry and Andy Warhol came to me regularly for bottled water. Robin Williams and I would talk quite a bit. He loved the expression on people’s faces when I would dip my fingers in Sambuca and then light them on fire while loudly saying, “how about a Bud Light?” a trendy slogan at the time. It made me feel quite cool that I had a celebrity following at my bar. Many of the models that wanted to shoot with me would meet me there and hang out as well. So many were coming to see me that I didn’t have time for them all. After a while, one or two beautiful women a day would become the focus of my shoots. I did this almost every day, for well over a year. I had a pretty big fan club even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was so naive.

I was personally ringing up over seven thousand dollars a night, the most of any bartender. I was loving life and rocking it, even though my schedule was grueling. Many bartenders worked five days a week, 9-5 in a day job and then worked all night and into the morning bartending. I had a similar schedule. It was grueling to say the least. I jammed as much life into a day as I possibly could. I felt free. I was making people happy with my photography. Sculptures and other artists were using my photos as the subject matter of their art. That was a double win. One of the models who came to see me, modeled with Wilhelmina. My friend Karen introduced us. It was reciprocal, as I introduced Karen to a few guys as well. One guy, Dale, turned out to be the love of her life. They were going to get married. She was grateful, so she hooked me up with the most natural, beautiful, and creative models she could find. I was busy night and day, bartending and shooting comp cards, portfolios; even national campaigns and fashion magazine editorials for famous designers.

One model Karen introduced me to was particularly stunning. I really liked photographing her. Karen was a booker and talent agent at Wilhelmina as well as a dear life-long friend. I was always extra polite and generous with my time when it came to her models. My deal with any agent was simple. I would always be a true gentleman to anyone they sent to me, but if the model wanted me and made it obvious she wanted something more, it would be our call if it was to get sexual. This model hit on me every time see saw me. When we finally shot, she did not throw herself at me. She made me chase her. She would walk around the studio naked and ask me what I wanted. She had an amazing accent. She would ask if I wanted a blowjob or if I wanted to take her from behind; graphically explaining why she was so talented beyond her modeling. She intentionally teased me quite often but made me wait months before we did anything.

Finally, one evening when I least expected it, and had given up trying, she just went down on me. Beyond that, we were enjoying each other’s creative collaboration very much. As a result, her career was skyrocketing. She knew I had many sexual partners and I assumed she did as well. Women, in the city, in the 80’s were just like men. It was a free-for-all. Since many of the male models and photographers were gay, if you were straight you were a target. I was definitely a target. It probably comes as no surprise that female models who were that gorgeous were also a target, and she was definitely gorgeous.

One weekend, one of the bartenders was handing out packs of chewing gum. It wasn’t unusual for any of us to bring samples from promotions or shoots to the bars. It was just regular chewing gum, with sticks of gum in small packets. He left them on the bar for us to help ourselves. Most of us took quite a few throughout the night and thought nothing of it. The bar got busy fast that night. Suddenly I came down with a terrible fever. Several of the bartenders felt ill as well. We had to work as long as we could. Management would be furious if we lost fifty thousand dollars of revenue because all the bartenders at the main bar got sick the same night!

We constantly broke our own unofficial records for how much we took in revenue wise, per bartender. Some of the new recruits, like the mafia kid, were doing great. All the new female bartenders seemed to be very capable as well. I could always tell how we were doing, by the pace of the registers. I knew we were having an amazing night. Then, my fever got worse. My manager came over and felt my head. I didn’t feel hot to him. Then the hallucinations started. I thought it was from the fever. Within an hour or two, I couldn’t take it any longer, I called the manager over and told him I had to leave. I was getting worse. So were many of the other bartenders at the main bar, but the club was packed and he couldn’t get in touch with the stand- by bartenders as it was too late in the evening and most were out partying themselves. He offered to take me home. He didn’t think I should try it alone. He probably knew that something was up. Nothing like this ever happened to me before. I was terrified and thought I would have to go to the hospital. Instead, my model, pseudo girlfriend arrived and said she would take me home. She knew as soon as she saw me that something was very wrong.

Once we got home, we took a shower. I saw faces coming out of the faucet. Real 3D spiral hallucinations, in every color and shape you could imagine. I thought I was going mad. I thought something poisonous stung me, or I ate something bad. As the hours went by, it got worse. I was in a surreal place. After a while, she said, “holy shit, someone gave you acid.” I was tripping. I had no energy. I was afraid to turn on the TV or radio, as I was paranoid that anything new would cause more hallucinations. Just imagine a vampire Dumbo coming out of the faucet and spirographic fractal images floating in space in every color imaginable that suddenly would turn into other evil Disney style characters and attack you!

Finally, after a few hours, I started to come down. She wanted to fool around to see how sex would be while I was tripping. She wanted me to experience “a good trip” as she called it. Her thinking was it would bring me back to some level of reality and realize that I wasn’t going crazy, just tripping. She had taken mushrooms before and figured out what was happening to me. We took my futon mattress up to the roof. We fooled around under the stars. At one point, she was turning from one cartoon character to another. First she was Snow White, then Cinderella. Then she became Cat Woman and a Playboy bunny. It wasn’t like she had a mask on. It was as if she morphed into actual cartoons. That’s how serious a drug acid is.

Most people don’t know that acid can kill you. I did. LSD was its’ street name at the time. I would never touch the stuff or anything like it. Mescaline and mushrooms were regularly being used by many people in the entertainment business back then. I was pissed when hours later, I came down. My girlfriend was right, someone had given me acid. We slept all day. When we woke, we both went back to the bar. I confronted the bartender who gave us the gum when other bartenders suggested he was the one who drugged us all. He was laughing as soon as he saw me. He asked if “I had a good trip.” He was leaning over the bar and I punched him in the face without even thinking about what I was doing. It wasn’t a fight. That one punch ended the entire thing, but it also ended my job at the Palladium. The manager told me his father was connected and that he had no choice. He made me wait there until the mafia kids father arrived. I was nervous to say the least, but felt that punch was nothing compared to what I really wanted to do to him. My manager told me if I didn’t stay, the guy’s dad would make me wish I had. I felt justified in what I did, so I waited like the wise ass I was. I didn’t know I’d be going for a limo ride, along with the other bartender and a few goons.

A limo pulled up and I was beckoned inside. Like a fool, I got in.. My manager said “please drop him off here after you talk?” The guy inside the limo said, “maybe we’ll drive him home. Don’t worry about it.” I was like, holy shit I’m going to get wacked. My manager’s face turned white. The mafia kid’s father introduced himself and asked me why I punched his son. I looked directly at him, terrified, knowing my life could end at any second. Then instead of being polite I looked right into his son’s eyes and said, “because if that fuck every drugs me again I will kill him, never mind punch him; that was a love tap.” I was bluffing of course. Then I told him the entire story. I spoke to him with the utmost of respect “and if I were you, I would get your son as far away from the Palladium as possible. There are half a dozen maniacs that want to kill him right now.” I was not exaggerating, as there were some guests, also looking for him, who were known to be bad-asses. Word traveled quite fast between us back then and it was not only the other bartenders at the main bar that he drugged.

With that, the father started screaming at his son, as loud as I have ever heard any man scream. At first I thought he lost it and was screaming at me. He was screaming in Italian but was looking at his son. He got up from his seat and smacked him in the face hard, many times. I actually felt bad for the guy. I wished I had never hit him, but it was too late. It seemed that he was beaten up more than a few times. He apologized for his son’s stupidity, but warned, that if I ever touched anyone in his family again, he would kill me. At that point I realized that we only drove around the corner. We were back at the Palladium right where he picked me up. It felt like an eternity, with every minute taking forever. He made us both apologize and shake hands. He told his son to tell the manager to come out. My manager came out and fired us both. They had it planned, even before we got into the car. I will never forget the look of relief on his face when he saw me get out of the car in one piece.

It was the end of my career bartending at the Palladium, but my photography career had taken off. I was on my way to California with Miss Canada for a body shot session the following two weeks anyway. Also scheduled was a celebrity filled evening shoot with Mohammad Ali and two hundred A-list Celebrities, so the Palladium was the last thing on my mind. I was tired of shooting all day and bartending all night. The blow I was using to stay awake was starting to get to me. I never liked it. I was only doing it to stay awake for my shift. I was assured by the models other bartenders that it was harmless in small quantities..

I was taking a long, hard, look at my choices, and my life. I was a human sex machine at the Palladium, or as we nicknamed, it the “GetLaidium.” I wanted to clean up my act and put all my efforts into photography. Once I left the Palladium, the opportunities were coming at me faster than I knew how to handle. Somehow, I found a way and stayed in the city until the rest of the puzzle took shape. Lots of people were trying to get their hooks into me one way or another. Not for my talent, but as a means to tap into my endless supply of hot women. I wanted nothing to do with any of it. Later, I would learn that this practice plagued the industry.

That sexy Wilhelmina model was really crazy. She actually brought mushrooms with her after the gum incident. She wanted me to drink some kind of mushroom potion or tea, prior to having sex with her. I wanted nothing to do with it no matter how much she tried to bribe me to “go on a good trip” with her. I never did. She however did and was particularly kinky when she was tripping. She would want to experiment with so many different positions and do it in public places like Central Park. She particularly loved it when people were watching. Not literally out in the open but under sheets and on balcony’s or in front of the windows. When other models were over for cocktail parties she like to do it in the bathroom, intentionally leaving the door slightly ajar. She was a true exhibitionist.

The night she turned into cartoon characters, while I was unknowingly tripping, was one of the craziest experiences of my life. She later was booked by a major Japanese designer and moved to Japan. Back then, there was no convenient way for us to keep in contact, but we did share a great chapter of love. For that, I am eternally grateful.