THE END OF A PERFECT EVENING
It’s 1973 and nobody goes home until they run out of money, drugs or hope. At 3:45 am Le jardin in the Hotel Diplomat on Times Square, is so crowded that short people are having trample anxiety. The dance floor is too jammed to do anything but bump and grind. The DJ has forsworn elegant variation and is blasting one jump tune after another. Drunks pass out and are held up by the crowd. People hang over the ledges of the roof garden nine stories up, flashing boobs, dropping pants. Behind the bar I’m confronted by a wall of clutching hands. In my dive joint experience, a four deep bar at last call means one shove too many, an elbow, an angry word and suddenly an ugly brawl, which the bartenders, in those pre-bouncer days, are required to break up. But we are in Disco Eden, before the fall, and good spirits prevail. There is a lot of pushing, groping, giggling, waving money, making friends. Not a cross word or a clenched fist in the crowd.
Sal Mineo is surrounded by devotees, talking theater. Jill Haworth sits outside the charmed circle, the beard that’s no longer needed.
Roy Cohn is leading his muscle boys in a spirited rendition of “God Bless America.” He glares at me. “Don’t you know the words?”
Ira slips under the bar and lifts the drawer to remove the stacks of 50′s and 100′s. My paranoia flares.
“Can you put a slip in saying how much money you took out?” I say. “I don’t want to be short in the total.”
Ira grabs a fistful of 20′s. “Now who would ever accuse a bartender of stealing? Don’t worry, a man comes in and re rings the tapes for Uncle Sam every morning.”
An hour before the tip cup had runneth over, bills sprouting like a bonsai. Now it’s almost empty. Has Jimmy been skimming? I check the cup. The singles, fives and tens have been “married” into a thick stack of twenties. Jimmy gives me a thumbs up and I feel a twinge of guilt for my suspicion.
People are screeching in desperation. “I didn’t hear you give last call.”
Bianca Jagger squeezes through the crowd and holds out her glass. She’s been drinking Cinzano, but now says: “Can you make me something better?”
If I get the drink right I’m in. I decide on a stinger, Remy and white Creme de Menthe, shaken over ice. She takes a sip…”Delicious…” Before I can ask “are you Bianca…?” her German friend pushes her aside…”And a Tequila Sunrise, extra grenadine…”
Suddenly, the music stops. Everyone is frozen in the silence for a moment. Then, they charge John Addison, pleading for one more dance. He shakes his head, sternly. “There’s a cop in here somewhere, checking his watch, who would love to lift our license if we serve a drink at 4:01.”
As senior man, Jimmy divides the tips. I get fourteen nice crisp twenties, the most I’ve ever made. That’s almost half my child support. I’m jubilant.
“Hold out your thumbs,” Jimmy says. He sprinkles cocaine on both my thumbnails. “Blast off…” This is not a good idea, but I have to show solidarity. I jam my thumbs into my nostrils and take a huge snort. The coke races like a burning fuse. I can feel the brain cells flaring like emulsifying film.
Jimmy holds his thumbs out. “Do me…”
The coke makes me edgy and talky. I’m wiping the bar, cleaning the ashtrays. Jimmy shows up with two shots of 151. “Going off drink…”
We click glasses and throw down. I am immediately on fire from my throat to my scrotum.
“C’mon boys, leave some for the customers.” It’s Addison. I can’t place the accent. “Are you Australian?” I ask.
“No, are you a fucking college graduate?” he says.
On the way out I get the wobbles. The Pippin gypsies are pushing into the elevator singing: “Gay Gay Gay/Is There Any Other Way?”
“I’ll take the stairs,” I say.
I descend into the seven circles of Disco Inferno. Every landing a different sexual permutation, a different piece of paraphernalia. Clinging to the banister I stagger through smoke and over writhing bodies. People are moaning, screaming with laughter. Somebody grabs my ankle.
Finally, the fresh air of Times Square. I cram the tip money deep into my sock and leave a twenty in my pocket to satisfy any mugger I might encounter. It’s a few blocks to the subway and then to an unmade bed in a sweltering apartment where I’ll lie in wakeful torment. Suddenly, death seems a viable alternative.
A redhead in white short shorts, black boots and a halter top runs across the street and right by me to Jimmy.. A big kiss.
“This is Adrian,” he says. “She dances at Robbie’s Mardi Gras.”
“Robbie’s Mardi Gras used to be the Metropole,” I say. “A Dixieland club. You could see the greatest musicians playing on the bar—Gene Krupa, Red Allen, Buster Bailey, Marty Napoleon…” The coke is talking, but I can’t shut it up. “I used to stand out there in the freezing cold to watch these guys–Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Irwin and Pee Wee Russell who wasn’t really that short…”
A stretch limo glides up and Bianca’s German rolls down the window. “Get in tarbender,” he says.
The limo is crammed. Bianca is sharing the jump seat with two skinny blondes who are dressed like twins. She smiles an invitation. Is that Addison in the front seat?
“We’re going to 228 and then I’m preparing omelets for anyone who is still breathing,” the German guy says.
228 is an after-hours club in the Village. It’s in an old sweatshop with blackened windows where you can lose days at a time.
I can’t go.
“The Loew’s 83rd. Street had a kiddie matinee at 11 today,” I say. “They show cartoons and the Seven Voyages of Sinbad. Sometimes they even have a clown…” The coke is broadcasting again. “I take my son, you know. He gets really mad when I fall asleep and keeps poking me–’wake up, dad, wake up–so I should try to get a few hours…”
The limo rolls away, but I’m still talking…”Although I’ll have to take six Advil and then I’ll be groggy all day and he’s going to want to fly a kite…”
I never worked at Le jardin again.
The Disco scene was too good to last. Everybody got too high too often. They lost control, talked too much, did too much and ended up dead. Everybody got too rich and drew too much sinister attention. The wiseguys who ran the gay bar scene in the Village branched out into the clubs. Addison had to seek police protection from a very tough guy from Brooklyn, who later became a big TV star. The IRS locked up all the major club owners for tax evasion. The wild sex turned lethal in the 80′s when the AIDS epidemic hit. Life became dangerous for the hard partyers. Sal Mineo was stabbed to death outside his West Hollywood apartment. Roy Cohn died of AIDS, denying to his last breath that he had it. John Addison also died of AIDS. By the late ’80′s Disco was dead. Only the music lived on.
It wasn’t all bad. Jimmy gained 50 pounds, married a model and became a movie producer.
And Bianca Jagger must be a grandma by now. If that was Bianca Jagger.