Tag Archive for 'the supremes'



NEW YORK, July ’73… Discos have exploded out of the hard partying gay sub culture. Everybody wants to wear glitter…Get loaded…Dance with wild abandon…

Everybody but me. I want to get a pastrami sandwich and go to the James Cagney festival at the Bleecker Cinema.

It’s a drug culture. Booze is not a factor. Most places just serve juice to wash down the drugs. And the drugs are all about sex. “Poppers” (amyl nitrate inhalers) which were developed to treat angina, generate frenetic energy and explosive orgasms. Quaaludes, promoted as a malaria cure, produce relaxation, euphoria and what the doctors call “aphrodisia,” the desire and the capacity to have endless sex. Women and gay men report incredible results. Not me. I gulp a ‘lude one night and wake up in a chair six hours later. Cocaine, originally used as an anesthetic for eye surgery, is reputed to make the user fatally attractive and non-stop horny. People on cocaine spend a lot of time admiring the way they look and the wonderfully clever things they have to say.

Not me. After ten years of hallucinating and learning things about myself that I didn’t need to know I’m off psychedelics and back on the booze. I just want to get crocked and wake up the same person I was the night before.

Music drives the scene. The British Invasion, Motown, The Philly Sound and the first stirrings of Disco keep people on the dance floor as much as the drugs. There are no B- sides. One great song is replaced by another. Soul Makossa is played over and over with the dancers chanting “Mama-ko Mama-sa Maka Makossa.” DJ’s are the new celebrities. Cutting between two turntables they can extend a dance beyond the normal length of a record. They change clubs like ballplayers or Chinese chefs and take their followings with them. Songs are personal anthems– Everyday People, Papa Was A Rolling Stone. In two years Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive will become everybody’s life story.

But not mine. While Diana Ross and The Supremes are going platinum I’m sifting through the bins in Colony Records looking for old Lester Young sides.

Everybody participates in what one writer calls “the democracy of the dance.” Stockbrokers, drag queens, suburban couples, bikers—everybody’s out there “shaking their booty” on the dance floor.

The clubs intimidate me. The dancing is athletically demanding and everybody seems to know the steps. The girls are insanely supple, in hot pants and halter tops. The guys look like they could do triple pirouettes in the Dance of Theater of Harlem and then beat me one on one. The only klutzes are the silent partners–the scowling wiseguys in the Armani suits with the pinky rings. And they don’t dance.

I’m a poster boy for the space-time curve. I share a material world with these people, but I’m in another era. I hang out at the Blarney Castle on 72nd and Columbus—a buck for an ounce and a half shot; corned beef and cabbage with a boulder-sized boiled potato. The only dancing I see is the pas de deux as Tom the bartender rousts the geezers who have drunk up their Social Security checks.

I’m working at the Hotel Diplomat in a dance hall for Italian immigrants, downstairs from Le Jardin, the newest, hottest disco in town. The place has been open three weeks and already it’s in Page Six every day with a new celeb sighting. But up until a week ago I didn’t even know it existed.

One Saturday night I’m in the liquor room scraping rat hairs off the lemons when Lester, the night manager comes to the door. “You wanna work Le Jardin tonight?”

A dark guy in a white suit is standing at the door.

“This is Mr. Addison,” Lester says.

Addison looks me up and down and is not impressed. “At least he’s young,” Addison says. “You’re going to make a lot of money tonight,” he says. “Don’t be greedy…”

In the elevator Lester confides: “The Saturday bartender Dennis got beat up at Riis Beach. I told them you could handle it…”

A narrow vestibule opens onto a room decorated with palm trees and potted ferns. The interior is white—white banquettes, white tables. Waiters on roller skates are laying out bowls of fruit and cheese. A guy with with a gelled goatee stops counting the bottles behind the bar.

“You from downstairs? What’s your name?”

“Woody,” I say.

“I’ll be judge of that,” he says. “I’m Ira…”

Ira takes me into an office room. A muscular guy in jockeys is combing his hair. “This is Jimmy, your partner for the evening,” he says. He steps back, squinting like a tailor. “Do you mind showing your legs? The bartenders wear uniforms…” He gives me blue sleeveless basketball shirt and shorts. Pinches my biceps. “Did you ever hear of the Y?” Groans at my work boots. “You look like the Bus and Truck tour of the Village People…”

“Ira’s a snap,” Jimmy says, getting into his uniform. He seems straight, but I’ve been fooled before. “This is a cool job. They do all your prep, cut the twists, make the sour mix, even wash the glasses…” His voice drops. “They’re paranoid about stealing. Don’t buy drinks, they hate that. If a customer buys you a drink make sure to take his money. They’ll be watching so don’t get cute. I think they’re connected…”

We go outside. It’s nine-thirty and the place is empty. A skinny lady with wiry red hair looks at me with hostile surprise. “Where’s Dennis?”

“In a urinal at Riis Park,” Ira says.

“That’s Fifi,” Jimmy says. “She’s Addison’s wife or hag or something…”

Ira shows me a tupperware container full of twists and lime. “In case you want a fruit…” He opens a box of stirrers. “Do you have a sizzle stick or a fizzle stick?”

Now he’s all business. “Two dollars for speed rack, two-fifty for call, three for cocktails. Pour a good shot, John wants happy customers…”

I’m strictly a dive bartender. The thick goblets and the sharp edged glass tiles on the bar make me nervous. “You could kill somebody with one of these glasses,” I say.

“We don’t feature brawling here,” Ira says. “Everyone’s a friend of the house…”

It’s ten o’clock and nobody’s there.

“The place is dead,” I say to Jimmy.

He smiles. “It’s a late shot. It’ll pick up.”




July ’73, Times Square, New York…There’s a recession on, but you can’t tell by me. I’ve got a bar job– twenty-seven bucks a night and all the goldfish I can eat. It’s at the Hotel Diplomat, an SRO on 43rd. St. and Sixth Ave. We call it “the Roach Motel” because once you check in you don’t check out. Half the tenants are seniors, shuffling around the mahogany chairs and sputtering lamps in the lobby until they find a spot on a lumpy sofa where they can lean on their walkers, muttering to the ghosts in the gloom. They stop breathing in rooms filled with fifty years of clutter, and lie forgotten until their stench signals their demise. The stronger ones make it to the hospital, bounced down the steps on a gurney, heads turning for one last dazed look around before they vanish into the ambulance of no return.

Hookers live in rooms rented by their pimps, who hang out in a bar off the lobby. They are hustled out, handcuffed and hysterical, by Vice Squad cops. New girls immediately take their places like there’s a waiting list. The seniors lean on their walkers and watch as they lead raucous sailors, nervous high school kids or furtive men in suits across the lobby.

Slouchy guys mutter in the phone booths by the elevators. Some of them are found with the needles still in their arms. Alerted by a trail of blood under the doors the maids enter to find the others tied, gagged and slashed in ransacked rooms. The seniors hobble down the hall as EMS workers wheel the bodies out, wrapped in their bloody sheets.

Rats the size of anteaters raid the liquor room, ripping open the bags of pretzels, unscrewing the tops of the maraschino cherry jars. We shout and sing to get them to scatter before we enter, but there are a few practical jokers in the pack. You don’t know what terror is until you’ve been startled by a giant rodent covered in Red Dye No. 2.

The Diplomat was once the hotel of the soft Left. The Socialist Party had its meetings and dances in its three ballrooms. Now promoters rent the spaces for dances and special events. Friday, Saturday and Sunday night the Crystal Room, so named for its chandeliers, is taken over by Alfredo, a twitchy middle-aged Neapolitan and Gerry, his blonde Brooklyn girlfriend. They put on dances for Italian immigrants. They charge ten dollars at the door and the hotel gets the bar. The room has a capacity of seven hundred and fifty. Every night begins with Alfredo pacing nervously as a few people straggle in. But by ten o’clock the place is jammed.

Three of us work a ninety foot bar. It’s Paul, a retired mailman from Harlem, Al, an angry butcher at Gristedes, who sells swag steaks out of the trunk of his car and me, a recently separated hack writer with a six year old son. We each have a bottle of Seagrams Seven, Highland Dew scotch, Gordon’s gin and Wolfschmidt’s vodka–and a soda gun. Seven and Seven is the cocktail du soir; we go through at least three cases of Seagrams a night. All drinks are $1.25 and served in plastic cups. No bottled beer; quarrels often erupt and the management doesn’t want any throwable glassware available.

The customers rush the bar, hundreds of them, shouting and shoving and clamoring for drinks for like they’ve been crawling on the Sahara for weeks. They pay in small change. “These greaseballs don’t go for spit,” Al says. By midnight, we have so many nickels in the register that Lester, the night manager dumps them in a huge sack. A quarter is considered a big tip and is presented with much pomp and ceremony. A few of the guys proffer a buck like it’s the papal crown on a plush pillow, but then they want free drinks for the friends and any stray girl who happens by. We do the math and figure that with people coming and going Alfredo is grossing ten thousand cash a night on Friday and Saturday and about five on Sunday– twenty-five G’s for low. Figuring an average crowd of twelve hundred, averaging three drinks at $1.25 per, that’s about $4500 for the hotel. For very low. “Everybody’s makin’ money and we get screwed,” Al says. We decide to charge the customers and steal from the till.

A quintet plays Top 40 and traditional Italian. Vito, the vocalist, a short kid with a gimpy leg and coke bottle glasses, is the ideal cover singer, doing Marvin Gay, Frankie Valli or Domenico Madugno with equal fidelity . Gerry rakes the dance floor with disco lighting, flashing, strobing, changing color, sweeping the room like a prison spotlight. The dancers do the same steps to a proto party list, going from Swear to God to Let’s Get It On to Volare.

There is a hard core of about a hundred regulars who show up every week. Among the men, an older group, smooth-shaven and slick-haired in wide-shouldered suits clusters at one end of the bar. They own pizza parlors all over Brooklyn and Staten Island, Vito explains. Another faction, young and modish in jeans and leather vests over sleeveless tees comes to my end. They work in “debt collection, you know what I mean?” Vito says flicking his nose. The two groups greet each other guardedly and never mix.

The females are either overdressed, heavily made up and deliriously sexy, at least to me, or mousy and awkward and giggling with each other. They arrive in groups like a bus tour and dance together for the first hour until the men join in. Everyone usually pairs off, but one night I spot a melancholy lady staring at me as she knocks back Seven and Sevens. At closing an invitation to coffee leads to a lurching clinch in the lobby and more stumbled kisses on the subway steps. But she sobers up on the long ride out to Brooklyn and by the time we get to Bensonhurst it’s life story time with lots of names and places, weddings, spiteful cousins, he saids, she saids… I find out she lives on 18th. Avenue with her parents and her “fiance” is a few doors down and I’m out of there. The next week she’s at the bar with one of the “debt collectors,” giving me a complicit smile like we’re having a mad affair.

The ’60′s had been a stressful time, what with psychedelics, army physicals and the shock of parenthood. Now, in the ’70′s I wake up broke, rejected and full of guilt on a mattress on the dusty floor of an empty apartment. But I’m not in school, I’m not in the army, I’m not married and I’m up for a job writing porno novels at ten dollars a page. Life is good.

One night I come to work to find a line a gleaming limos in front of the hotel.

“We doing weddings now?” I ask Lester.

“They’re havin’ a big party at Le Jardin tonight.”

He’s a black dude who’s been at the Diplomat for forty years, working his way up from porter. You’d think he had seen everything, but he shakes his head in amazement.

“They had Diana Ross and the Supremes up there the other night. They get just about everybody…”

I remember a few weeks ago when the place opened. “They got a fag joint on the roof,” Al had said.

Vito had gone up there one night and come back with a dismal report. “No live music…They got a DJ like on the radio. Two turntables goin’ back and forth…” He looked at me helplessly. “Everybody’s gonna do this now. We’re dead…”

It’s the beauty of narcissism. A seismic cultural phenomenon was erupting right under my nose and I didn’t even notice it.

For the first time I notice that the lobby has a new population. Young, stylish, flamboyant, pushing the seniors off their perches, interfering with the orderly process of prostitution, even sending the dope dealers into temporary retreat. They jam into the only elevator that goes to the roof, making so many trips that the motor burns out and they have to take the stairs.

“They wait on line like they’re givin’ out twenty dollar bills,” Lester says. “You oughta go up there. They got everything goin’ on…”