Showing posts with label New York Stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York Stories. Show all posts

I Meet The New and Improved Big Apple

When I lived in NYC in the late 1980's, the city was a wild and filthy witch holding a crack-laced Big Apple in her hand. The governor had recently cut the budget by setting crazies free from pricey hospitals to roam the streets of Manhattan like zombies. Studio 54 was closed but the citizens were still coked up so we danced into the inferior Palladium and out of Save the Robots at the shock of dawn like zombies.

I’d walk up five flights of stairs to visit a friend but think about it first. How much rent do you pay? was the casual equivalent of your dad's back home opener What road did you take?  Illegal sublets were either whispered or boasted about. We drank Rolling Rock on top of tables covering bathtubs that sat plumb in the middle of the kitchen.

Dude, Where's Your Pants?

Part of the fun of staying in a hotel is ordering room service.

Room Service In Bed

In exchange for the money hotel guests pay for a room, everything that happens in there, stays there. If that weren't the case, black light wands would detect sunshine and happiness when passed over a Hilton bedspread, not remnants of a teenage hooker's life and DNA so perverted your eyes bruise, causing thoughts so foul you can smell them.

I worked in room service at Morgan's Hotel in NYC in the 80s. Break that sentence down, and add it was wild after every other word. Sprinkle the sentence with immoral and illegal. If a guest checked into the hotel with drugs and a bellman sneaked into their room and stole the drugs, who're they going to call?

The maids were the first on the scene to find evidence of foul play. Guests tended to abandon porn magazines like Red Hot Milky Mamas featuring lactating women, rather than take them back home to be discovered by their wives, mothers, or airport security personnel. I can see the young, clean cut businessman from Ohio, rushing to catch his flight home. His suitcase falls open, sending his filthy magazines scattering onto the airport floor, along with the doll he bought for his daughter.

Morgan's housekeepers were all recent Chinese immigrants, and these meek, quiet, giggling, women had not seen anything like this back in their country. It all makes sense now -- if they could clean up a U.S. hotel room, they can take over the world.

A rumor spread like gossip about a guest in Room 1103. He kept flashing his staff to the hotel staff who serviced his room. Both his bold act and rumored penis size were impressive. I heard.

He'd call the front desk and report trouble with his television. When the engineer arrived, he found the TV simply unplugged. The engineer plugged it in and when he turned to stand, the guest would be naked. The engineer left politely. Soon, the guest would order room service. When one of my team members arrived, the flasher would be in a complimentary hotel robe. Perfectly normal, they were cushy cotton robes, available for purchase upon checkout.  But when the waiter put the dinner tray down on the desk and turned around, he faced a tip. And the rest of the guest's penis. This went on for about two weeks. David Youse saw it at least six times. He became blase´ about it.

I had to see this penis. I missed so many opportunities and I was afraid he was going to check out or get beat up by that one mean Russian engineer.

One night, I got excited when an order came in for Room 1103. A coke. That was it. Who orders a Coke from room service? A pervert. That Coke probably cost ten times its street value, but he obviously didn't care. I tossed caution to the wind and braced myself as I rode up in the elevator, holding that huge tray with that little bottle of Coke and lone glass of ice to get flashed by a sicko. I was in NYC, living the big city dream.

I knocked on the door. He answered wearing just a towel, not the bathrobe I was expecting. That took me a back a bit. I walked in confidently, noticing that he was more handsome than I imagines. I'd figured him as the kind of guy who would be, but shouldn't be, nude on the beach. I pictured him all humpy, living in his mother's basement. All his friends were creepy too. But he looked like a regular guy. I crossed to the desk like the scene had been blocked by a skilled director and I knew the actor's next line.

I'd turn and his towel would drop, revealing his massive member. I'd gasp, slap the demented but hung man with my imaginary hand, telling him that I wasn't that kind of boy, and leave. You can open your own Coke! would be my stinger of an exit line.

I was glad my back was to him and that I had business to do, it hid the fact that I was a little nervous -- we all have a first time. Instead of fumbling with buttons or a bra closure, I shakily moved the Coke bottle off the tray. He spoke before I even turned around.

"Let me get my robe," he said.

And he did. He wrapped the belt tightly around his waist as he signed the bill. I left as if I'd just delivered eggs to a middle-American family. As I walked to the elevator, two room service cohorts surprised me by jumping from a hallway where they had been hiding while I got non-flashed. They wanted to see my reaction to the flasher.

I let those amazingly supportive guys down. And myself. I felt so dejected by the flasher's rejection. Sure, there would be other times, my pals assured me, as we rode down the elevator.

"You're too good for that small town perv," they told me. 

The general manager asked the guest to leave a couple of days later, claiming the housekeepers were freaking out.

What a way to honor the hotel room no-holds-barred attitude. God love him, I am sure the advent of the internet was his biggest blessing. He is now free to practice his beliefs in his mother's own home. He was my first pervert, but I was not his.

In a hotel, I am the guy who messes up both sides of the bed so the maid doesn't think I slept alone. I also remove any suspect garbage myself. And when I order room service, I am sensitive to the waiter and any trepidation they might feel about knocking on the door of a stranger's bedroom. I make sure there are plenty of lights on, and there is no evidence of a good, relaxed time in my room. We do our business, I sign the bill and escort them out.

A Day at the United Nations With Taylor Negron

In 1994 I was in NYC with Taylor Negron writing on a Comedy Central show, Out There. Or I was having shoes made at that little cobbler in the East Village. I just remember one afternoon Taylor asked me if I wanted to go to the UN and have a VIP tour with his friend, the ABC press attache. I jumped at the chance -- normally my writing day ended at Grey's Papaya eating one of those hot dogs that snapped.

Taylor lured me to the U.N. with his ABC friend's personal history story. Prior to news, he was a Catholic priest. And prior to that he was married. That's who I want to deliver news to me; he's seen and heard and felt everything.

Taylor and I were ushered in the back entrance, frisked and given badges. His friend toured us around the main chamber, then we hung out in his small ABC press room. We peeked down at the floor of the General Assembly. I spotted country's name plates as if I were looking through Romper Room's Magic Mirror. I named them aloud for everyone to hear. "I see Poland I see Bolivia." My voice became shrill when I saw the familiar USA's desk, like I had been parched in Cuba for six weeks and suddenly spotted a Starbucks.

After the tour, we went to the private cocktail bar, reserved for ambassadors and their prostitutes, I guess. We ordered drinks, then sat back nibbling mixed nuts that I'm sure had been fingered by high-powered multi-nationals whose culture didn't practice hand-washing.

Soon, we were joined by a nice little black man. We began to entertain him. That's what Taylor and I do, and we both strongly believe in singing for one's nuts.

In this safe room, no one introduced each other; they just wandered around aimlessly looking to close deals that couldn't be closed on the floor of the UN here, over martinis. When there was a lull in the humor, it occurred to us to ask what he did, and were intrigued to learn that he was the ambassador from Rwanda.

Their recent horrific genocide had just occurred. He seemed glad to have the diversion of laughter and asked if we might know Bill Clinton. And if so, could we use our influence to get him office space in D.C.?

We didn't; however, I knew a Clinton joke involving a walk on the beach and a genie. I told that. He laughed and laughed.

Taylor leaned in close to the Ambassador. "Greg and I don't exactly understand what happened in your country -- the genesis of the genocide, if you will,"  Taylor said.

That little Ambassador perked right up and drew the entire struggle on a U.N. cocktail napkin. In ink. At one point he flipped the napkin over to continue the story. We pointed at different spots on the napkin to let him know we were following. He lit up like he was Professor Higgins and we had got it. We learned the Hutus were a rough lot and their country was forever changed. He hated that they would be known for this tragedy, instead of the land of magnificent gorillas.

Our gathering had turned very somber, and I knew that I needed to take back control of the audience. I told him the story of my monkey, and he smiled. Taylor owned a pet monkey, too, and shared that tale.

The clock struck 7PM. Taylor and I had to leave. He'd rented an apartment with a rooftop terrace and we had friends coming over. Had we known we would be in the private lounge of the U.N. discussing world events with world leaders, we'd never have invited anyone over for tortellini salad and homemade Sangria.

Our footsteps echoed as we walked through the empty atrium of a hallway toward the secured, private exit of the building. It was just the two of us at this point in the early evening. We stopped in the window-lined hall, where the smell of Pine Sol caught up to us. We asked each other if we really should leave. My cell phone rang. It was someone needing Taylor's address.

We all have to leave the party at some point. As we walked toward the exit, we pocketed our coveted name badges. We'd lie to security that we lost them. Taylor patted his pocket, where he had the hand-drawn war cocktail napkin inside.

Later, Taylor and I made beautiful eggs on a cooking show. I miss him.


America's Got Talent

Doing hard time in prison for money laundering and tax evasion? In between (and during) the shower rapes, perhaps you dream about the day your sprung and what you'll do first. Maybe you want to devour a huge, juicy t-bone steak that sizzled on a grill, or buy condoms. I'm not a psychologist.

If you landed in the butt-pokey for money laundering and tax evasion crimes committed with your business partner back when you owned Studio 54, and you're in the big house together, you might dream of a big house.

That's exactly what future disco-tax-dodger-cum hotelier Ian Schrager dreamed of with his partner Steve Rubell (though Rubell might have been more focused on the prison sex) while they were locked up. Because as soon as they were sprung, they opened what is regarded as the first boutique hotel, Morgan's on Madison Avenue near 38th in NYC.

I moved to NY with an apartment and acting school in place. I needed a job. My roommate did some public relations work for Morgan's hotel and thought it would be a good fit, so I applied and was hired.

It was a good fit, we wore chic grey uniform suits designed by Calvin Klein. Calvin K himself kept what looked like hustlers in his apartment at Morgans. Maybe he wrote them off by using them as "fitting models".  I worked in room service. Bianca Jagger also lived there. She'd call me every night so we could spend ten minutes on the phone giggling.

She asked. "Greg, darling, I am so bored. What do I want for  dinner?"

I'd list the menu items, and she'd repeat my boring pronunciation of "chicken" with her luxuriously accented "ccchhhhhhhicchhyyen".  As soon as she made one sound sexy enough, that was her dinner.  If a cheetah could talk, it would sound like Bianca Jagger asking me what she should have for dinner. I can't believe Mick left that sexy but admittedly whiny purr for Jerry Hall's Texas twang. To a boy fascinated from afar with the glitterati cafe society of NYC, I 'd arrived and was all up in it.

Rubell and Schrager couldn't get a liquor license since they were felons, so we called a local liquor store. The store delivered when the guests needed booze. We always threw in a bottle for ourselves to share among the crew. We sat in the stairwell waiting for a guest to order dinner, knocking drinks back and entertaining each other.

Someone brought a boom box to the dirty old basement kitchen at Morgan's. I had a raggedy cassette tape of Patsy Cline hits. I draped a dishtowel over my head, grab a wooden spoon and lip sync along to Crazy. I'd like to tell you that this took a little hooch in me to do; but that would be dishonest. My audience each night were my fellow waiters, the chefs and a Rastafarian dishwasher, Clyde. They didn't make a hairnet big enough to contain his giant dreadlocks, so he just wrapped his huge "do" with a plastic garbage bag and worked away, stoned as a rich hippie. Clyde was thrilled to be in America "mon" operating an automatic dishwasher.

Rubell was cheap -- hence the tax evasion conviction. He didn't see the need to waste money on a night manager for the hotel that catered to the world's elite; he trusted us minimum wage 20 year-olds to cater to the needs of Cher and Liza. The bellmen got to know which guests checked in with cocaine, then used their pass key to steal it. Shockingly, no guest ever called the front desk to report that their drugs had been stolen.

The place was wild. With no night manager on duty and this being the city that never sleeps, the staff was left to run the staff. We should have fired us, and charged us crimes. Instead we got tipped.

During one of my Patsy Cline tribute sets, the day manager, Terry, walked through the kitchen/stage.  She paused, took the whole scene in, processing it in her Hyatt School of Hotel Management-trained mind. Instead of seeing us as staff on-the-clock drinkers that stuffed our faces with stolen shrimp, she saw the chance to showcase the talents of an all actor/model hotel staff.

The hotel had a swanky, elaborately gorgeous restaurant designed by chicsters Philippe Stark and Andre Putnam, but no one used it because Rubell and Schrager were one liquor license short of a good time.

News of the event spread like gossip does. My friend David Youse conceived our act: David, Henry Hodges and I  would perform a medley of Ellie Greenwich numbers. In drag. Ellie wrote the hits Da Doo Ron Ron, Leader of the Pack, and a Marine Corps favorite, Do Wah Diddy Diddy. Not only had David seen every Broadway show since about 1980, but he also owned the soundtracks. Plus basically every show ever recorded. He fascinated me by putting on obscure Chita Rivera show in his Hell's Kitchen apartment. He had a wall of sound and video equipment like no one else in town. I was constantly amazed that he was never was robbed; he was constantly amazed that I walked down his block eating macaroni and cheese doused with Red Devil, bought at Smiler's deli. (I evaded hookers and stepped over a steaming mass of passed-out homelessness to get in that market and their really good mac 'n cheese.)

David mixed the medley of Ellie's hits. We each had a spotlight number and in between our solos, he spliced in the wedding bells from "Going to the Chapel and We're Gonna Get Married". We changed positions during that segue with some simple footwork. The three of us rehearsed a few times, and we felt pretty good about our choreography. Fashion designer Victor Costa and my mother sent up a couple of his ball gowns and one red Halston from her closet. Henry Hodges was muscled, so he donned the red number. Fitting since Halston loved muscles. David had wigs left over from a caveman skit he had done in another show. We struggled a brush through it to remove the bones that were rolled up in them.

The three of us found white pumps for ten dollars on 42nd Street. For three pairs. We ducked in to Duane Reade Drugs, shelled out the same amount for Lee Press-On Nails and some light blue eye-shadow. There was no chance of us looking like anything but trash. Dolly Parton once said, It takes a lot of money to look this cheap. For us, not so much money. Henry bravely decided to shave his armpits, but that only puzzled David and I because Henry's dress wasn't strapless. We knew we wouldn't be beautiful, but we were hoping for somewhere in between Tootsie and The Crying Game. Look, first prize was a VCR, and that was incredibly motivating.

But who were we to judge?

Showtime! Clyde the dishwasher, baked out of his mind on dishwashing detergent and ganja, helped us zip up our dresses and press on our nails. The three of us waited for our turn, watching truly talented co-workers get up and present amazing acts for the judges.

We looked at each other nervously. Sure we were ready and knew our act; but this whole night had gotten out of control. What had been meant as light-hearted fun born from a dishtowel and a dream, had turned into Shakespearean monologues from Juliard students and self-written songs played on guitars shipped in from Brooklyn. How would our act, which was basically three hideous trollops mouthing the words to My Boyfriend's Back and You're Gonna Be in Trouble -- not be offensive?

We didn't actually care -- I wanted that VCR. None of us had one; they were pretty new. Warren Buffet was rich, but he hadn't bought one yet. He was still having his original wife and kids re-enact famous movie scenes for him while he ate his signature popcorn.

As we walked out and onto the stage, I brushed my wig out of my face and left three of my press on nails in the nylon, straggly hair. My boyish figure couldn't keep my dress up;  it slid down a bit and I slipped a nip. The crowd loved it. While that reaction is fun; I was horrified. My coworkers were baring their soul and all I was baring was my balls, and those only metaphorically.

Maybe the serious talent figured the celebrity judges would help them get acting jobs, I don't know. We were there to have fun and committed to do that. But I felt a little guilty, like I was up there making a mockery of the process. I didn't even know who the judges were until later. The restaurant was dark, and Rubell had all kinds of hangers-on and did a lot of drugs, so for all I knew the judges were his mom and his childhood imaginary friend. Turns out it was Rubell, Liza and Bianca.

We made it though our number perfectly, bolstered up by rehearsal and vodka. We did our little jigs between each other's solos. We had to hold for laughs a couple of times. We did our job as entertainers and our act killed. And we won.

Jenny Robertson, a young actress who had just started working at the hotel, ran off the stage crying. I thought, "You better toughen up sweetie, this is a tough town and a Hamlet soliloquy can't beat boys dressed like girls." David and I wanted to believe that her hopes and dreams were crushed forever; however, she soon quit to star in Bull Durham and went on to star in dozens more films and married well.  Superhunk Bradley Cooper wasn't onstage that night -- he would work at Morgan's later. If he had been there, he could have just ripped off his shirt and beaten us with one bicep tied behind his back.

We were aware of the reputation that being Morgan's and Paramount workers had. It was fun and we didn't usually have to wait in nightclub lines. We totally took advantage of it. If we needed a good suit to wear to a personal event, we snuck our uniform out of the building and wore it. It was a pretty tight group, some of us were fired and rehired many times. Richie Notar went on to own Nobu and that is one hard-to-get reservation connection that keeps on giving.

Rubell had a good time at the talent show, too. He had declared that only one VCR would be awarded. Liza lept up, and shoved him back into his chair.

"You cheap sonfoabitch --I couldn't save my mother from those bastards who run Hollywood; but I'll be damned if you're gonna cheat these boys out of electronics!" Her hip popped out of place and she had to sit.

I guess Rubell felt bad, because we all got one.

We found Rubell later that night, passed out on the floor near his hotel room door. He wasn't dead, just asleep, his keys still in the lock of his door. In an incredibly cliche´ maneuver, his hustler of the night had relieved him of his wallet, coke, shoes and pride.

I know the clock on that VCR is flashing in a landfill somewhere.

Robbers: Let 'Em Eat Cake!

When I first read this article, I thought that the subject, or victim, lived in the South. It's about biscuits and exposure to mind-numbing heat. However, in the first line we learn that she's in the southern part of California.



I picture a young reporter, beer in hand and tongue in cheek, bitter from writing fluff copy over his sure-Pulitzer novel. He sneaks this story in, rubbing his hands together, knowing his grinchy editor won't even bother to read before it goes to print.

Once there was a twisted crime wave in Dallas. Muggers hid under cars in the parking lot of ritzy malls. Women approached their own cars and the criminal reached out and suddenly slashed their ankles with a knife. The mugger was then free to jump out, grab her purse and keys -- and drive that car away, leaving the woman to bleed all over her Ferragamos. I'm sure this abandonment violates the Good Samaritan law. Panicked, our victim was left facing the duplicitous dilemma of calling for help and wondering if blood comes out of leather.

A friend of my Uncle Jim's was worried about his wife because she often shopped in those malls. He wasn't worried enough to get her a car and driver; but he did get her a loaded handgun to keep in her handbag. She'd take it out at lunch and wave it around to show her girlfriends how "cute' it was. Busboys ducked and waiters warned the chef not to fuck up the salad Nicoise on table 33.

One day, she walked to her car, hyper-aware of these under-the-car ankle slashers. She looked a skosh  bit crazy trying to look under cars while still looking chic. Typical was whispered by church-going shoppers. She'd downed a few glasses of Pinot Gris.

"Damn Asians make all cars look alike. What are you gonna do, shoot 'em?" she mumbled aloud, giggling as she patted her loaded handbag.

She finally found her car and got in. She was fumbling with the keys when all of a sudden she got startled by two men and one woman in the back seat. Completely flustered, she whipped around and demanded that they get out of her car.

They pushed back at her with wide-eyed stares. She couldn't believe their nerve and regretted not voting more carefully in the last presidential election.

Leaving her no other choice, she pulled out her pistol and brandished it about, ordering them out in English and Spanglish and some of her college French. She loved any chance to keep her French up. The backseat people really didn't want to leave, even though she screamed at them. And was armed. The gun flung around uncontrollably in her hand, like a Water Wiggle.

They couldn't argue with her gun and her mental state, so they reluctantly left. They cursed her as they slowly walked away.

She placed the pistol down. But only so far as her lap, keeping it at the ready. Shaky hands made it hard for her to get the key in the ignition. She tried again. They wouldn't go in.

She screeched at the Lexus that her husband had chosen without her input, "Not now!"

She tried and tried and tried but the key would not go in.....

Because it was not her car.

In related news, Texas women can be fashion vicious of a different style. They might "debut" new diamonds or furs as if they're unveiling a portrait. Or an heir. I once escorted Dallas zillionaire Montine Wisdom to a party where I, along with most of Dallas, knew she was introducing a $250,000 lynx coat. James Galanos personally flew his crazy-ass over to Russia, hand selected the pelts and eventually probably donated his own longer hairs as thread to stitch the coat.

As we neared the event, Montine placed her furry arm in mine and we walked into the party, trying to assume a casual air.

Guests lingered near the entrance, busy with casual gossip. In an attempt to feign interest, one removed lint from one another's lapel. We paused, then Montine whipped off the fantastic, full length coat with a flourish that one can't learn, but are born with.

The crowd gasped, and a valet caught the coat just before it touched the ground (I think you have to burn it if that happens). Montine just stood there, posing, preening.

Yet her moment was not over. What she hadn't leaked was that under that coat, which no one knew about or could expect in any way, slung around her neck was a $1,000,000 David Webb turquoise and diamond necklace. Massive earrings and a bracelet completed her bedazzling suite. That's how you make an entrance.

I think one of the Hunt sisters fainted and I know Nancy Brinker left in a humiliated huff.

In true she-didn't-take it-with-her evidence, this is Montine's coat, later sold at auction.


My Aunt Nelda was a tall, elegant, prism of a woman. She wore thousands of flash-causing diamonds even at breakfast. She always had a 2-carat diamond and gold bee pin perched on her shoulder. She  ordered a new Cadillac Eldorado every year. She was supposedly buried in that bee pin as a a last request but I suspect her grave met the same fate as King Tut's.

She was a wealthier and more stylish version of Auntie Mame, without the gin-stained voice. She was traffic-stopping beautiful. And fun. She was known to bring her own dessert to restaurants and possibly offer to share with other diners. She rinsed her hair black and her poodles pink. And sadly left us too soon.

One evening she and her mother (my grandmother) were headed to a birthday party. They stopped by Albertson's to pick up a cake. Aunt Nelda wore a white, floor-length mink coat -- excited to debut this for a while. This intimate family birthday was just the event.

My grandmother sported some old, modest sable jacket. She was a simple country woman who had pushed a hand cart across Oklahoma into Texas in 1898. So she didn't really require all the fancy stuff.

They carried the the cake to the Cadillac where my Aunt carefully placed it on the front floorboard. Eldorados, which as you know, featured front-wheel drive, so they didn't have the annoying hump in the floor. Great spot for placing a cake, a cooler or a baby for safe transport.

She settled in to start the car, calling to my grandmother, "Get in this car before the icing melts, and 'Happy Birthday Rebeca' gets blurry"

But my grandmother was having a hard time -- some mugger had grabbed her on the passenger side. When he finished pulling her into the car, he was in between the two of them, holding a gun jabbed into my grandmother's side. He demanded the car, my Aunt Nelda's diamonds and......

And that's as far as he got.

He made one of those mistakes that he'll replay in his mind a million times while he sits in solitary confinement in the Lubbock prison system: With his rough, forceful, selfish actions he'd caused the bottom tip of Aunt Nelda's brand-new white mink coat to touch in the icing of the birthday cake on the floorboard. Her new white mink coat had cake frosting on it. In an instant, my Aunt Nelda struck at him like a viper.

"You are going to give my mother a heart attack. And you have ruined my new coat!! Get out of this car immediately!"

His face found out that diamonds are the hardest stone.

He broke free of her emerald-cut grasp, and ran across the parking lot. My Aunt screamed for someone to stop the now bloody, horrible criminal.

A fast thinking bag-boy ceased retrieving carts and tackled the mugger, holding him down until the police arrived. My Aunt re-payed that hero by introducing him to her granddaughter, my beautiful cousin Rebeca. They eventually married. That's how you meet a fella in Texas.

(She owned a personnel agency and possessed mad typing skills herself. Later at the police station to give her statement, she pushed the deceptive out of her way. She slid her jewel encrusted fingers across the typewriter keys to type her own statement faster.)

I wasn't as brave as Aunt Nelda; but I did rely on the kindness of animals when I lived in NYC. One chilly night, I walked passed the subway entrance at Broadway and 72nd Street, which was two blocks from my apartment. I stopped to buy cigarettes at a newsstand, whipped out my and handed the clerk a ten dollar bill. He  took forever to give me my change and cigarettes.

Suddenly, a man stuck himself against me and whispered in my ear, "Give me your wallet or I'll stick you."

It happened so fast tat I remained fairly calm. I looked down and sure enough, he had a long, sharp knife poked into my side. Not my actual side, but the side of my thick, brown leather bomber jacket from Neiman Marcus which was lined in sheared possum. Look --  I'm not going to try to defend myself on the fur issue. Nor the bigger issue as to why, as a struggling actor, I ran around Manhattan swathed in retail fur -- there are bigger battles.

I had the coat because it was practical; NYC is cold. The mugger had that crack-jacked look in his mean eyes. That was the year that the New York governor cut the state's budget by simply releasing crazies from state asylums onto the streets of New York. Nice plan.

I jerked my wallet over to him and he ran off. The clerk then handed me my change and cigarettes, admitting to me that he knew the bad guy was going to mug me and wanted to make sure I had money left to get home so he had stalled. This city was lousy with nice plans.

I hurried home because I heard that if you didn't have enough money in your wallet they would come after you and cut you open and take a kidney or a testicle.  

I'm sure he got back to his den of thieves and disgustedly threw the wallet on the ground, cursing me, laughing at my driver's license picture and vowing to get even one day.

So keep a keen eye out for crime, and flying biscuits. 

Long Island Lockjaw The Hard Way

So you’ve moved to NYC! There’s no parade, no welcome wagon, no committee formed that's led by a Prozac-laced housewife with brochures. No directions about how to live in the big shitty, and definitely no food safety tips. 

 My first day living in NYC, I was excited to try all the amazing foods I'd never even seen. I sat in my apartment wondering if hunger would make me brave enough to venture out. 

I spied a grocery store across the street from my apartment on Columbus Avenue. As I entered, the ceiling felt low; but I'm sure I was comparing it to the vast supermarkets of Texas. I cheerfully grabbed a basket and jauntily headed down the aisle. I picked up a can of something and the top was dusty.

"Hmmm," I thought, as I returned it to the shelf and grabbed another can. Also dusty. We had a situation on our hands. I looked around as if to find the manager and tell him that whoever he was paying big-city wages to wipe these cans was screwing him over.  I picked up a steak from the meat case. The meat was brown on the edges, as if it were old or not artificially dyed the way I was used to. 

“Be calm,” I said to myself, hyperventilating but trying not to breathe in too much of this filthy air. I wanted to grab that steak, like Mary Tyler Moore in the opening credits of her TV show, and fling it into my basket with sticker-shock. But once I saw this dirty, brown meat, and since I was still reeling from the filthy can incident two aisles away, I dropped the meat back in the case like a hot rock. 

I left the building. I didn't toss my beanie in the air with reckless abandon like MTM. This grungy city didn’t deserve my new hat. I ate take-out that night, and many nights, which was great because I was exposed to some of the best cuisine in the world. Whatever little war-torn country everyone in NYC had floated over from, was now represented here by amazing food. 

I loved deli food and often grabbed a bite to eat from a street vendor or a fabulous hot dog from Gray’s Papaya. It gave me something to do when I walked countless blocks. (As you might have heard I was unable to take the subway.)

One night about 2AM I woke up and felt ill. My roommate went to our nearby Korean grocery and picked up Sprite and Pepto Bismol. I think he picked up a trick, too; the two-block trip took over an hour and I heard the all-too-familiar sound of belt buckles hitting ankles in the hall. The remedies didn’t help; I kept throwing up. Turns out I caught my first case of food poisoning. Technically I was due. I was so excited to try all of the food in the city that I tried all of the food in the city. I had to roll with it -- this case of food poisoning was like a cold a kid brings home from school: I couldn’t pinpoint exactly who had given it to me so I couldn’t beat anyone up. 

I worked at Morgan’s Hotel on Madison. Owned by Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, of Studio 54 infamy. They only employed actors – I guess they loved putting up a good front. They knew about putting up a front (and back in Rubell’s case) because they were newly sprung from prison for hiding cash from the IRS when they owned the legendary disco. Gifted NYC chef and restaurateur Larry Forgione (American Place) sent a chef to work at the hotel. I worked as a waiter in room service, but I unnecessarily befriended that chef, Mark. He taught me useful cooking things, like how to make stock.  In return, I put a dishtowel on my head and lip-synched Patsy Cline songs into a spoon. Chef Mark and I became tight. He even shared with me that he was walking funny one day because he was recovering from an adult circumcision. 

One day, in some clever Freudian homage to his former foreskin, Mark was painstakingly removing every suggestion of fat from chicken parts. He used surgeon-esque precise swipes of his chef’s knife. Maybe he was about to interpret a classic French chicken dish. Perhaps create an all-new chicken masterpiece, reviewed in the Times and named for him, allowing him to finally emerge from Forgione’s shadow to open his own bistro.  


This was a great chance for me to witness this perhaps epic event. It was also a great chance for comedy. With one swoop of my hand, I scooped the chicken fat off of his board and shoved it in my mouth.  
I ran upstairs to the front desk. It was staffed with the most beautiful girls in New York. Freakishly gorgeous, young, natural blond debutantes who weren’t born, they were bred,  kept in a lab under tight security until the hotel needed them. These girls were a most cruel welcome to the guests. They carried a message from NYC itself to visitors: “Welcome to NY. We, like this city, are too good for you, so don’t get comfy. Just give us your money and leave.” 


I crept in the back door of the front desk, getting the girls attention by making “Lookout, I’m gonna hurl!” sounds and motions. I wretched and grabbed my stomach, working it as long as I could.  
After I had a captive, and stunning audience, I let the chicken fat fly from my mouth onto the floor. 
That was the whole gag. I “fake” threw up in front of beautiful girls. One yawned, one re-applied her lipstick, one almost made eye-contact, but they all ignored me. What I didn’t think through was that this didn’t faze them – they probably threw up as sport in front of each other, to trade tips on hair-holding and noise control.  

I cleaned up the mess and returned to room service, appropriately one floor below. Pain woke me up the next day at 5AM. My jaw throbbed from a horrible toothache. I took some Tylenol. I wished my mother would magically appear and take the pain away. She’s not a dentist but she’s terribly influential.

Being Saturday morning, my roommate wasn’t yet home from Friday night. I knew few people. I broke open the phone book and began calling dentists in my neighborhood. (I was in too much pain to travel out of my residential comfort zone.) By 8AM I was sitting in a dentist chair a few blocks away.

“You have great teeth,” he excitedly reported.  “But have you been exposed to salmonella lately?” he asked.  


Due to the pain,  it was hard to think. I knew I'd been exposed to disease, filth, and a rare combo of all of those when I recently encountered Steve Rubell passed out in his hotel with his pants down.

"You have lockjaw," he diagnosed. "Caused from salmonella. It's present in raw poultry," he went on. 

My eyes lit up. Through a jaw clenched shut by poison, I regaled him with the tale of my chicken fat bit. Lockjaw is only glamorous when it is an accent spoken by the population of a teensy part of Long Island, passed down from generation to generation, like a silver service or pouty lips. 

For five days I lived on anti-biotics, McDonald’s shakes and potato chips.  My Aunt Cathie washes her uncooked chickens with soap.

When Rachel Ray tells you to wash your hands after handling raw chicken, just fucking do it.

Don't Ride the Subway Nor Eat BBQ In NYC

When I moved from Texas to NYC, my family hosted a send-off in Dallas. My mother pointed her finger at my chest, sliding my body across the room into a corner like I was on a track. With a foreboding witch-like look on her face, her eyes got all wild and Barbara Bush-the-1st crazy. The room grew darker, from the corner of my eye I think I saw lightning. Her finger poked me rather hard and her voice suddenly went from sweet to raspy. I thought she was going to tell me I was adopted, or that my VISA card had a limit.

"Beware of BBQ in New York!she hissed.

Others in the room concurred, like a coven casting a vote. "BBQ?" I chortled. "How the hell can a bunch of Yankees not know how to slow-roast meat? It's fool proof - slap it on the heat, slather it with sauce and forget it for a while."

On old man got up from the corner and spoke; I don't even think he was invited. He was a huge presence that just suddenly appeared, like China.

"Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens. Stay away from B-B-Q," he warned. "And don't take the subway; that's how you end up in those places," he said.

I was familiar with the city as a tourist; however, my family was concerned that living there was going to terrify me. I reminded them that I had just finished six years in the Marine Corps. If I could wear nothing but olive green for all those years, I could do anything.

My apartment was on the 2nd floor of a pre-war building on Columbus and 70th -- a terrific neighborhood. Right above a Chinese restaurant, but I didn't trust the food, it was too close. You entered the apartment through the kitchen, which served as our foyer. As you continued into the living room, the ceiling grew to fourteen feet. At the end was a floor-to-ceiling window that opened onto a fire escape. I called it our terrace.

The first time my little brother Clay came to visit, I let him in and rushed back to the bathroom to finish blow drying my huge 1980's hair.

"Should I wait in the living room?" he asked.

"You're in the living room," I sighed.

I felt lucky to have this apartment. I particularly enjoyed the parquet hardwood floors that were inlaid with a darker outline in different wood, laid very carefully and with only the skill brought over by a teen via a ship in 1885 from Hamburg. I imagine the German immigrant that lived in the apartment, tired from a long day of cobbling or making schnitzel, coming home, thinking, "Boy, could this parquet use some inlay! I'm going to lay here on the floor and with every ounce of strength I can muster I will inlay this floor, improving my mood and the hip-factor of the Upper West Side in the 1980's." I appreciated his effort.

For my entire tenure in the city, I never became familiar with the NYC subway system. I had the impression that once you entered the subway, the doors locked shut and it sped off into a dark tunnel and didn't stop until it was good and deep in Brooklyn. Then the door opened, spitting me out into the dirty street and announcing to the awaiting horrible cast-offs forced to live there, "Fresh meat, Brooklyn. Have at it!"

Unmentionable ravage would occur, like lions on a zebra kill. Like the unseen scene hinted at in Suddenly Last Summer.

So I walked a lot in NYC. I rode the pokey buses, pretending I was a tourist. I took cabs when I could; but didn't ride the subway unless I was with friends. After acting class one day, starlet Chelsea Noble (before her role as Mrs. Kirk Cameron) convinced me to ride the subway with her. She thought me crazy not to take advantage of this rapid transport system. I thought her crazy for being young, beautiful, and inviting throngs of men to attack her and steal her innocence and morals. Turns out the right-wing did that just a few years later.

Then I got cast to play a doctor delivering Nina's baby on the soap Another World. This is great news to an actor, unless your agent tells you that they tape in fucking Brooklyn. She might as well have told me they filmed in Hell, because Brooklyn is in the forbidden BBQ triangle. Why couldn't a rich soap opera character come into the city and deliver her baby?!

My agent casually gave me my call time. In fucking Brooklyn. She told me what trains to take. "Are you writing this down?" she asked.

No. I was looking out my rear window to see which building was the highest, and if my body would disturb anyone as it fell to the ground.

"I'll take a taxi," I said.

"It will cost you every cent you'll make on this shoot! You'll take the subway." I'd signed with the agency Writer's and Artists and didn't want to anger them. I braced myself for the subway trip.

Deep breaths and baby steps got me onto the train to Grand Central at 6:30AM. I emerged into the vast terminal and looked for my train. The letters on the sign swirled, looking more like gibberish in my panic. But I found my train. It was jam-packed, like a compilation of Bee Gee hits sold on TV.

I stood, hanging onto a straps. I tried to stay calm as the train emerged from the tunnel, into the daylight, and along the top of some famous-looking bridge. I could see that I was leaving Manhattan behind. The unease I was feeling must be why Woody Allen never comes to LA for the Oscar's.

I got off the train at my appointed stop. I was the only person that did so. I stood there for a second, looking around at the warehouse-like buildings. I had no idea where I was headed and had no sense of direction. Though that might be a tremendous metaphor for my life, I couldn't grasp that and look out for bad guys at the same time. And check my hair in the reflection from a broken but taped-up window.

I walked a bit in one direction, then another. I wasn't feeling it. I'm a former Marine. I've shot azimuths hundreds of times, with a compass in vast woods, mapping out grid co-ordinates to lead my squad to an objective. This concrete jungle should be cake. The motivation that I should be on time for one of my first professional acting jobs should have prodded me enough to find the huge television studio.

But it didn't feel right. Perhaps I had gotten off at the wrong stop. No one else was around; weird when I was used to crowded Manhattan. It was as if my train ride and decision to enter Brooklyn had confirmed my family's belief that Brooklyn was evil and had caused the Apocalypse. I stood there, literally at a crossroads.

I walked across the tracks, back onto the train platform and took the next train back into the city.  Sure, I felt defeated; but I was alive. My murder and subsequent dismemberment was not going to be the lead story on the news that night. Whitney Houston and the entire casts of Cats and  Dreamgirls were not going to have to sing all of the songs at the memorial led by Elton John and Maya Angelou as previously planned.

I called my agent from a payphone in Grand Central Station. She wasn't pissed, she was in shock.

"You fucking idiot! The entire production is waiting on you to deliver Nina's fucking baby!! She is contractually unable to reach up and pull her own baby out of her own fucking uterus and shoot a pretty look into Camera B at the same fucking time!! Now you have to get in one of your precious fucking cabs and get your idiotic ass out to Brooklyn, where I live by the goddamn way! I hope it costs you every cent you have!!" She was a skoch angry.

I jumped in a cab, feel gin both stupid and comfortable. I had a great time on the show. Nina had a beautiful, healthy, plastic baby.

I've never been back to Brooklyn. And I've never eaten BBQ in New York.

When I'm in NYC now, I take great relish in riding subways. I seek out chances to ride them. I have ridden the subways on trips back to NYC, and in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston, London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, and Montreal. But I drew the line in Istanbul. I know for a fact that those trains do indeed lead to white slavery, and after all of these years, I'm not falling for that.