Chapter 1 Hey! You! Get Out of My Way! Chapter One Parts 1-28
Enter the Ninth Circle Part 1
Don’t get me wrong, I honestly love New York City. However, I think that I liked it better when it was scary and full of crime. Not like it is today. Today it is clean and full of safe things to do. What I’m talking about is back in the 1980s. 1984/1985 to be exact. Back then New York City kept you on your toes.
There was a time when you used to run across Times Square, quickly weaving in and out of hookers on the stroll. You would see dealers selling drugs. Marijuana, Crack, Whack, Speed, and Smack was dealt out in the open. Every now and then someone would get ripped off and buy the occasional bag of oregano (so I hear) or packet of sugar and a fight would break out. It didn’t matter, cops wouldn’t show up. Various peep shows lined the main strip and had plenty of visitors in and out of their doors. They would advertise with a broken blinking sign that for 50 cents you could see a (dandy) show. Now it feels like that was a hundred years ago.
Back then you would spend every minute of every day looking over your shoulder to see who or what might be lurking in the shadows.
Back then, if someone was running towards you, it was usually a sign that they were going to snatch your bag, or stick a knife into you, or worse. These days when someone is running towards you, they are doing just that, running — running towards you wearing sneakers that are probably worth more than your bag. When did jogging become such a big thing? When did working out become such a lifestyle?
Since this was the ’80s, I had the look of the time. Everything was big and overdone. I had what I would call a “Flock of Seagulls” hairdo, named for a band who was known more by how big their lead singer’s hair was and less for the quality of their music. To achieve this look, I would take a hand full of Dippity Doo hair gel, slop that on my head and pull it into what I can describe as a large unkept birds nest. Then I would spray it with half a can of Aqua Net Hairspray to keep it in place. For clothes I wore t-shirts, leather jackets, and tight pants with a short black boot. I was totally in style.
My first apartment in New York was located in Red Hook, Brooklyn. This was one of the scariest neighborhoods I have ever lived in. My apartment was 36 blocks from the subway and one block from the projects. We shared the building with a taxi service. My roommate was a modern dancer; I almost never saw him. He was always in his room and rarely came out. By rarely, I mean every couple of days or so he would run out to use the bathroom or grab something from the fridge. I would often hear him moving around in his room, but I would rarely see him.
I found the apartment through The Village Voice. Turned out it actually belonged to a friend of a friend of a friend, but I found the initial listing in The Village Voice.
It was a small two-bedroom with a kitchen, a bath, a park around the corner, and when I showed up, plenty of homeless people lying on my stoop.
It was a busy neighborhood, and I would see so many people just hanging around, not working. People knew my name without my telling them and would scream greetings to me out the window on my walk to the subway (along with various other phrases).
Enter the Ninth Circle Part 2
One of my first jobs in NYC was working at a Gay bar named Uncle Charlie’s. Uncle Charlie’s was located at 55 Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich Village. It was a quiet storefront located on a neighborhood street.
What you couldn’t see from the front door was that Uncle Charlie’s was large and had four bars under one roof. There was also a dance floor in the middle of one of the rooms. It was a room that played videos and had mirror-covered walls. Everyone who worked there referred to it as the “Stand and Stare” room because there was very little dancing going on and a lot of standing and staring going on. In every room there was a television playing comedy videos and music videos. Every now and then a full movie would be shown.
“Deep in Vogue” by Malcolm McLaren was a big hit at this time. When Willi Ninja, the star of the video would walk in, I would make Scott or Charlie, the DJs, play the video. Willi would get embarrassed and give me a little wave. Willi was a great guy, and I loved talking to him.
Around this time, I moved into a carriage house on 13th street between Greenwhich and 7th avenues. Café de Bruxelles was on the corner (another place where I worked as a waiter) and the Gay and Lesbian Center was diagonal from my front door. Uncle Charlie’s was further up the block and was across from the Dew Drop Inn. I was “Jack of all trades” at Uncle Charlie’s. I worked as a cocktail waiter/doorman/occasional bartender and expert rat killer/dodger.
Charlie’s had two owners at this time. One owner was an old queen named Gary who would arrive at work during the winter in a ratty old fur coat, his face overly suntanned, and have a “boy du jour” on his arm. Usually this was some skanky call boy who ordered the staff around because he was dating “the boss”. Little did he know that his power would only last the one night, or until Gary got bored. To my knowledge, the longest a twink stayed around was about a month.
The second owner was silent. He wasn’t physically present in the club. He was actually on the run from the police for murdering his lover. It was a huge torrid story, one we were not allowed to mention while on the premises. It did however make it into the papers, and every now and then the FBI would check in.
The silent partner did, however, have his son, Seth (who didn’t want to be there) running the business and counting the money in his absence. Seth was married with a wife and kids at home. This was the last place he wanted to be.
Seth would often call you into the office and try to intimidate you. The office was in the basement and you had to walk down long crooked stairs (well actually half stairs/half slide for booze). He was usually on the phone when you got there and he would signal you to have a seat. Then, in between pauses with whomever he was talking on the phone, he would tell you what he expected of you that night. That way he rarely had to come upstairs and make an appearance during the evening. When he was done with you, he would wave you away with the flip of his hand and continue his phone conversation.
One of my favorite bartenders who worked there was Steve. Steve was sweet and kind, and usually drunk by the time the night was over. He would also overpour a drink so you could join him in his drinking. He loved to make B52s and Mind Erasers. Steve looked like an L.L. Bean model, and was actually an actor on the side.
Another one of the bartenders was named Joe. He was also an actor, but unlike Steve, most of the patrons had seen his work. He was the star of “The Pizza Boy: He Delivers” and yes it was exactly what you imagine it might have been. He was the guy in the film who ordered the delivery. We were warned that if you ever wanted Joe to give you drinks or not make your night really bad, you were not to mention his film resume anywhere around him. He was this big Italian jock with a crooked smile and a thick Brooklyn accent. He was also one of the dumbest people I have ever met.
Every now and then someone would run out of liquor and whoever was not doing something would go get it from the basement. On the way, there was a maze of beer boxes of stacked to the ceiling. One of the favorite games of the employees was to toss glass bottles of beer at each other as someone would enter the maze. If you got to the end of the maze first, you would grab loose beers and throw them over the boxes into the maze. The beers would hit the floor and explode like mini grenades, showering whoever was in the way with sticky foam.
Also living in the maze were rats. Now, I’m talking NYC rats, smart, cunning, and scared-of-nothing NYC rats. They would dive at you on your way through the basement. The cellar doors opened onto the street so our busboy David could bring the garbage right outside. Rats seeing a good thing would scurry inside and set up home in the basement.
David the barback (a runner who stocks the bar with ice and alcohol) was nice but a little odd. He was my age, but told everyone he had fought in the Vietnam war. He dressed every night in army fatigues and carried a large knife. The knife was for the occasional waiter threatening and rat beheading. Our manager Jeff actually had been in Vietnam and would have “flashbacks” during work. These usually caused him to stop working and stare blankly into space.
Our front door was protected by John; he was a really nice guy who modeled his look on “Super Fly”. He sported a large Afro and had a black belt in Karate. John refused to show us any tricks because in his words, “Karate is no joke.” During the fall and winter, we would add Alan to our family. He would set up a coat check in a little cubby across from the front door. The word was to never go into Alan’s booth unless you wanted to get felt up and believe me, no one wanted to be felt up by Alan.
One time while I was working a shift, a patron who had been coming to the club for several weeks decided that he was going to take me home. He took my tray, threw it to the floor, tossed me over his shoulder, and made a run for the front door. This guy was 250 pounds 6’3”, and had the thickest Russian accent I’d ever heard. Everyone thought it was a joke until I started screaming and he pried my fingers off the door jamb as he dragged me out the door.
Enter the Ninth Circle Part 3
Honestly, I think that it was my fault when I got kidnapped from Uncle Charlie’s. There was a patron who would find out I was working and make sure that “he was there”. I started to see him every night I was working. This went on for several months, at first causing me to think that he was just always there. Uncle Charlie’s had its regulars. Afternoon and night, you could rely on the same people to be there nightly hanging out drinking.
I did think that he was a really nice guy. I would laugh at his jokes and tell him that I was flattered when he would tell me how “cute” I looked or when he would bring me a little gift. The fact that he would tip me heavily every time I brought him a drink would make me look around for him when I started my shift.
I was even flattered when he asked me to work a desk job at his construction company. When I asked him what I would have to do at this desk job, he responded with a wink, “Answer phones.”
“Right,” I thought to myself, just answer phones. Is this because he could tell how lovely my voice was as I screamed at him over the loud bar music night after night? Truthfully, I paid a lot of attention to him because, like I said, he would
have order five drinks and tip up to twenty dollars per drink. The night I got abducted he was tipping fifty per drink. At fifty dollars a tip, I paid extra close attention to his stories.
Everyone in the bar was laughing the night he picked me up and threw me over his shoulder. He had been drinking and decided that I was going to go home with him. When he marched me out of the bar, the crowd was laughing even harder. Even though I was screaming “Help, this is serious, I am really being kidnapped!” no one did anything. They must have doubled over in hysterics when he pulled me through the door and started running up the block. All the while I was fighting and struggling to get free of him.
When we get to his car, he fumbles for his keys while pinning me to the door with his body. He gets the key in the lock, opens the door, and pushes me in. I watch out of the passenger window as two bouncers and assorted staff tackle him and slam his body on the hood.
Suddenly it becomes a blurred sea of faces bouncing off the passenger window. Every time someone jumps in, he flicks them off like a fly at a banquet. I climb into the drivers seat and push open the drivers side door and climb around a swirling mass of arms and legs that have travelled over the hood and ended up on this side of my escape. Suddenly, his bright red face comes within inches of mine; someone’s arm is around his neck cutting off his air. “Get back in the car!” he gurgles to me. “Fuck you,” I respond and slide out of the car.
I run through the mass of people who have gathered and head back into the club; the manager has called the police by this time. When the police show up, they don’t want to take a statement from me and they let the guy go. They figure that this is going to be a lot of paperwork and it’s low on the crime list. “Another brawl at a gay bar. Alert the media,” says one of the cops out of the side of his mouth.
The next night when I show up for work, the owner summons me to his office. He yells at me for leaving the club during my shift the night before. I explain the kidnapping, the cops, etc., but he is mad that a good paying customer won’t be back.
To make it up to him, the owner gives me a new chore. He wants me to bring people into the club. “I really don’t understand,” I say. “Where am I supposed to find them? I have seen the same people here night after night.” I have yelled out “Merry Christmas,” “Happy New Year,” and “Happy Thanksgiving” to the same motley bunch every holiday. Sadly, new faces appear only on the weekend. “Well, we need to get more people in the club,” he snaps and dismisses me with the wave of his hand.
I am not alone in my first task. My friend Mitch and I get the job of decorating the club for Halloween and then handing out fliers for a party. I met Mitch at another bar I worked called The 9th Circle and got him a job here at Uncle Charlie’s. Mitch and I are the perfect people to be given this job; Halloween is a favorite holiday for both of us.
We are given a budget and we run to the store and buy plenty of day glow paint, cobwebs, lights, and assorted skulls. We have decided to make the video room into a graveyard (sadly, lately not too far from the truth on a nightly basis). I get to the job of painting tombstones all over the mirrors and Mitch installs yards of cobwebs. We have only one day to start and finish the task. The club will be filled in the evening, because in the Village, Halloween is a huge celebration. I mean, just give gay men the chance to dress up and become anything they want to be, and the sky’s the limit.
I paint what feels like hundreds of tombstones and my arm is tired. I have written most of the staff’s names on the grave markers and Eric (one of the newest waiters) tells me that he can’t find his name. Eric stands at about 6’7″ and his arms dangle from his shoulder sockets. I write, “Eric the Fish” in bright red paint on a grave and call it a day. He demands to know why I call him “Eric the Fish?” Just the fact that he gets annoyed when Mitch and I say it is enough joy for me. I finish up and run home to get into my costume. I have worked for weeks on it and it is perfect.
Most everyone in the club is planning on going as a sexy nurse, sexy kitten, sexy pirate, or sexy construction worker. I, on the other hand, am going as Piper Laurie from Carrie. I have taken two ratty falls and combed them out so they are enormous. I attach them to my head. I’m wearing a big pink muumuu that billows when I walk. I am impressed with what I have accomplished and get the desired effect when I walk down the street brandishing the knife above my head. “Oooooohhhh, you go scary girl!” A scraggly looking Queen strolls past me. Then Sexy Batgirl calls to me as she passes. “Work it out Mama!” I am feeling good and looking fabulous when I enter the club.
Enter the Ninth Circle Part 4
I make a loop through the club, knife held high and muumuu billowing. “You look really scary!” Mitch says, “Just like Piper Laurie.” “You look great!” Steve adds. Various patrons begin filling my head, telling me how great I look. “Get to work,” says Seth, coming around the corner and pointing to the trays sitting on the bar. “Damn,” I think to myself, he shouldn’t sneak up on people like that. “Nice costume,” I say to Seth out of the corner of my mouth. “Idiot,” he says to me, “I’m not wearing a costume.”
I grab my tray and turn on my heel. I walk over to a large bunch of people sitting near the door. I look around at all the various “sexy costumes” everyone is wearing in the group. One of the group jumps when he looks at me. “Yikes,” he says and waves me away with his hand adding the word, “Go.” I see him call over another waiter dressed as a sexy caveman. Undaunted, I move on.
“Hi,” I say to another group. “Can I get you ahhhhhhhh?!” I stop in mid-sentence; someone has stepped on the back of my muumuu, causing my head to snap back. I turn around and try to drag my costume out from under his foot. The guy standing on my muumuu is paying me no attention, so I begin tugging at my dress, trying to free it from under his foot. This causes the corner of it to rip. He then looks at me, annoyed. “You ripped my dress,” I say to him. Unfazed, he wrinkles his brow “You look nothing like Stevie Knicks,” he says to me. “Are you drunk?” I respond, “Its clear that I’m Piper Laurie from Carrie.” “Never heard of her,” he responds turning on his heel. ‘Are you out of your miahhhhhhhhh!” Someone else has stepped on the side of my muumuu, causing me to drop my tray and pitch off balance. “Thank God I have no drinks on that tray,” I think to myself.
All night long people have been stepping on my costume, so now I am standing in the ladies room, dressed in tatters with my wig on crooked. The ladies room is the only place that everyone goes to do coke, so I am not alone but no one is bothering me. Every now and then the occasional lady has to use the bathroom to pee, so people have to clear out.
“Honey, you ok?” a drag queen in a sexy witch costume asks me. “I have had a rotten fucking night; the only money I made was when someone paid me a quarter to go away,” I say. “Ohhhhhh, honey it’s alright,” she says to me, patting the side of my head where the fall is now sitting. “I hate to do this,” she adds, “but can I borrow that quarter? I have to make a call.” “Seriously?” I say, handing over the money.
She runs out of the bathroom and down the stairs. I begin to put together what’s left of my dignity and remove my costume. Underneath, I’ve had the good sense to wear a black t-shirt, shorts, and little boots. I tie a knot in my t-shirt and walk downstairs dressed as a sexy barmaid.
Almost everyone has left, except for our regular inebriates. “Have a shot,” Steve says to me with bloodshot eyes. “Can I have four?” I ask. I look at my painted gravestones; some stupid queens have written their names on my work. Most of the gravestones now say, “Paul + Nick” or “Bobby loves Neil.” It’s been such a lousy night; I have no costume, no money, and no buzz. It’s time to go home.
Tomorrow night I get to work my other job at The Ninth Circle.
Enter the Ninth Circle Part 5
A year earlier, one night a waiter at Uncle Charlie’s bar asks if I will cover his other job at The Ninth Circle Bar. It will be for a short time when he goes out of town. I figure that I can use the money; my rent at the carriage house is $560.00, a staggering fee for New York City.
The carriage house apartment is interesting. To get to it you enter through the main entrance of an apartment building on 13th Street, located between Greenwich and 7th Avenues, and head into the courtyard. In the courtyard is a three-story carriage house where the original owners used to store their horses and their carriage. Clearly they were rich! Sadly, it is without “real” electricity. It’s wired with various cord and plugs and every time I plug something in, all the lights dim.
I live on the second floor, and to get there I walk up a circular staircase that is about ten inches wide. In true New York fashion, I am subletting the apartment from a friend of a friend. I am told that I need to pretend to be the brother of the original tenant, if I’m ever asked who I am by anyone who lives there.
The interior of the apartment is one room with a bathroom. I can actually sit on the toilet and do the dishes in the sink at the same time.
In preparation of going to The Ninth Circle, I ask around Uncle Charlie’s to see if anybody has been there. Almost everyone looks at me like I just got off the turnip truck. I thought that I had seen the seedy side that life has to offer, but that is before I enter The Ninth Circle Bar.
I go there during the day to meet the head bartender/manager and to tell him that I will be subbing for one of his waiters. Little did I know at that time that the waiter would never be coming back to work there and my sense of loyalty would keep me there a little longer then I planned.
The Ninth Circle Bar was allegedly named in honor of the book Dante’s Inferno. In Dante’s Inferno the ninth circle is the lowest form of Hell. The sign outside said it was a Steak House when I arrived. The logo was Eight 0’s and a 9.
Even during the day, the bar lived up to its name. It was quietly located off of 7th Avenue South, right across the street from the fire department. I had been told that the place was a hangout for Janis Joplin at the height of her fame. Somewhere they had a picture of her allegedly sitting at the bar. I never saw it, but everyone knew the story.
I walk up the front steps and enter a dimly lit room that smells of day-old smoke and vomit. I squint both my eyes and let them adjust to the light. The bar is directly in front of me and I can barely make out that there are about ten old barflies sitting around the bar. The smoke hangs thickly in the air. I thought I’d noticed windows when I stood on the sidewalk but on the inside no external light permeates the bar. “Hey Cookie, look what the cat dragged in,” one of the barflies croaks. “Meow,” says another scratching the air before him and leaning on the back of his hand. I slowly walk up to the bar, feeling like a virgin bride at a vampire convention. “Hi,” I say, my voice shaking, “I’m looking for the manager.”
“Jerry-Poo,” one of the old drunks yells out, “Your date’s here.” “Hold on,” someone yells, the voice coming from the back of the room.
At a speed-walking pace, out comes the person I believe they just referred to as Jerry-Poo. He is sporting a blown-out perm, a tight t-shirt and matching jeans, a little gold chain, and I believe he has a cold because he can’t stop sniffing.
“Who ah you, who ah you?” he says in a rapid fire progression as he lifts the little bar gate and slides behind the bar. His voice quickly betrays a thick Bronx accent. I put my hand out to shake his, he looks at it, then looks around at the barflies, and decides not to shake my hand.
“Whadda ya want, whadda ya want?” he shouts at me, wiping his nose on the shoulder of his sleeve. I can hear someone at the bar begin to titter as I feel fresh the sweat on my neck start to slide down my back. Finding strength, I say, “My name is Geoff,” “and I am here to sub for one of your waiters.” “Fresh meat,” a barfly yells out, slapping the bar with his hand.
“You awr, awr you?” Jerry-Poo says to me. “How do I know who sent you?” Jerry-Poo snaps, his eyes getting bigger. Suddenly a loud buzzer goes off, Jerry-Poo’s eyes dart around the room. “Shit, he’s up,” he yells out …
Enter The Ninth Circle Part 6
Jerry-Poo looks at me, looks at the buzzer, then back at me again. As the frequency and insistency of the buzzer increase, sweat begins to form on his upper lip.
“Jesus, Jerry,” one of barflies yells out, “He don’t sound like he’s in a good mood.” Jerry-Poo waves me away with his hand. “I’ll see you on your shift and don’t be late,” he adds, jabbing one bony finger in the air in my direction. I turn around, stumble down the front stairs and out onto the street. An old woman walking a dog passes me. The dog pauses, looks at me, sniffs the air and continues walking.
One thing I honestly love about New York City is that you can have the most bizarre experience, turn around, and step back into normalcy. It’s like being on Star Trek and walking through their doors. One moment it’s calm, and the next minute the doors open and chaos ensues.
Strangely, no one passing me on the sidewalk crosses to the other side with a crucifix clutched in their hand while looking up at The Ninth Circle bar sign. I feel that I have truly been in a den of evil. Thinking of going back there, I am strangely both repulsed and a little excited to return. “Hmmmmmm” I say aloud to no one at all, thinking it over.
That night, I walk into Uncle Charlie’s and look for the waiter who asked me to work his shift at The Ninth Circle. I find him trying to avoid me. “Are you out of your mind?” I ask, blocking his escape. “Why?” he answers with a giggle, knowing that I went there. “Well, I’m not going; you can find someone else to cover for you,” I say. He looks at me and summons up his best impression of Bambi; his eyes get all big, and he talks in a baby voice. “Oh please,” he begs me. “You promised, and it’s only for a week.”
“No Way!” I respond. He walks towards me and puts his arm around my neck. His face is two inches from mine. “Come on, you promised, a deal’s a deal,” he whispers. “First,” I say, stepping back a little, “why are you so close?” Then I take my hand, place it on his chest and move him back further. “And second, why do you want me to do this for you?”
“Because I trust you,” he says, looking directly into my eyes. “You’re not like the other people here, my job is safe with you, I know you’ll give it back.” Years later, I learn to identify bullshit, but like I said, back then I was just starting out.
“Ok, you win.” I say, feeling touched and slightly defeated. “Hurray!” he yells, throwing his fists in the air. “Can I buy you a drink?” he asks. “Drinks are free,” I remind him. “Well, not free,” I finish.
Uncle Charlie’s staff had adopted the “Don’t ask, don’t tell policy” when it came to drinking at the bar. This was long before President Clinton gave it to us. Our policy is that we’ll drink, but no one tells the management.
I have three nights before I have to officially return to work at The Ninth Circle. I begin to silently pray.
Enter The Ninth Circle Part 7
My first night at The Ninth Circle I show up an hour early for work. I want to show them that I can do the job and that they can count on me. Standing on the sidewalk, I summon my nerve and walk up the steps. “Hi, I’m Geoff,” I say, extending my hand to the doorman. He’s sitting on a stool and I need to talk to him to get past and into the bar. “Huh?” he says looking at me, his mouth hanging open. A little toothpick dangles out the side of his mouth. “Hi, I’m Geoff,” I repeat, holding out my hand. “Wha?” says the doorman. I try again, “I’m new here and tonight is my first night.” I speak a little louder this time, thinking he can’t hear me. “I’m covering for one of the waiters.” I am now yelling. I figure that he must be hard of hearing because he just keeps staring at me.
He reaches up and pulls the toothpick out of his mouth. “What are you doing later?” he says to me with a leer and a wink. “I have a feeling I’ll be avoiding you,” I quickly respond and turn on my heel. “Saucy,” he says running his tongue across his mouth. “Ick,” I think to myself, “serious ick.”
“Pay no attention to him,” says one of the bartenders, waving me in. “That’s Brian, our doorman, and he’s not too smart,” he says, pointing to his head and sticking out his tongue. “I’m Tree,” he says, offering his hand, “and this is Don,” pointing to another person behind the bar. “I’m Geoff,” I say, extending my palm, “and it’s nice to meet you both,” I say, shaking hands.
“Tonight’s a big night,” Tree says as he starts wiping the bar with a cloth. “Robin Byrd is having a private party in the basement and it needs to be perfect.” “Who’s Robin Byrd?” I ask. “Doll, where are you from?” asks Don, laughing. “Guilderland, New York,” I say, “between Albany and Schenectady.” I point a finger in the air, as if that will help it make sense. “Oh,” says Don, coming out from behind the bar.
He walks over to the jukebox. “Come over here Geoff, and play what you want.” Don opens the jukebox and begins to push hundreds of song selections. “We play what we want and by the time people put money in to hear their songs it will be closing time.” With that said, Don closes the lid.
“Where’s the basement?” I ask. Tree points to a door in the wall. “That’s the door to the basement and that other door leads upstairs. If you need to piss, use the upstairs bathroom, it’s semiprivate, staff only.” “Thanks,” I say with a smile.
“Do we close down for the party?” I ask, walking back towards Tree. “Why do you ask?” inquires Tree. “Well, because there is no one in here right now,” I respond. “Oh there will be, there will be,” says Don with a chuckle.
About twenty minutes later the place is packed and jumping. A woman in a mesh bikini and a cowboy hat walks by me. “Robin Byrd,” Tree mouths and then winks. She heads past the bar and into the basement. Tree follows right behind her. As he passes, he tells me to come down when I get a chance. “I’ll introduce you,” he says.
The bar is dark now. They have turned down the lights as low as they can go without being off. I can’t see faces unless they are standing directly in front of the bar or next to the jukebox. My first table waves me over. It is so dark that I extend my hands like a blind man searching for something. I touch someone’s arm and yell into the dark in front of me, “What can I get you?” I scream over the music. Joan Jett is singing about her Bad Reputation. “Two boilermaker specials,” requests the faceless voice. “Okay, coming right up,” I yell back.
I go to the bar and ask for two boilermakers. “Did they ask for the special ones?” Don asks. “Oh yeah,” I say, feeling bad for not knowing there are special ones and not special ones. Don puts two beers, two shots, and a wooden box on my tray. “That’s the special part,” he says pointing to the box and patting me on the shoulder.
I turn from the bar, tray in hand, and almost run smack into Brian. “What are you doing later?” Brian asks, putting his hands on my waist and trying to pull me in. “Getting a penicillin shot,” I say. “Suddenly, I have the strangest itch I can’t get rid of.” “Really?” says Brian with a wink. “Need a ride?”
Enter The Ninth Circle Part 8
All night long Brian is on me like white on rice. Peter Pan’s shadow spent less time attached to Peter than Brian does to me. The longer the night gets, the drunker Brian gets. He starts slurring, “You’re so hot,” which ends up sounding like, “Er so snot.” I am constantly removing his hands from me.
I am very busy all night long trying to get people served and trying to learn all their names. It is the strangest mix of people I have ever seen: everybody from the homeless to Wall Street traders and everyone in between. They are all there under one roof. It takes me about twenty minutes to realize that I am indeed working in a hustler bar. Young twinky boys are hanging off old men, acting like they had the money of Leona Helmsley when they order their drinks. Every now and then someone snaps their fingers to get my attention. The place is so loud you could bang a gong to get my attention and I still wouldn’t hear you.
I found that tonight, I was actually having a blast! I was loving every minute of being here. I have always had friends from every spectrum and corner of life and to have them all in one room was wonderful. It was one of the very reasons I moved to New York.
Two of my favorite customers tonight are clearly hustlers. Their names are Dennis and Scott. Dennis is tripping his brains out on LSD and Scott is dressed somewhere between a Nazi guard and a German youth. He is wearing black knee boots, a white shirt, long tan trench coat, and he sports an Arian youth haircut. Tucked under his arm he holds a riding crop. He snaps the crop on my ass to get my attention. “Oh, Boy,” he calls, waving his crop at the table, “How long do I have to wait to get served?” My reaction is not what he expects. I burst into laughter and Dennis, tripping his brains out next to him, giggles along with me.
I introduce myself to the two of them. Scott extends his hand as if I am helping him out of a hansom cab and Dennis just stands up and wanders away. Scott goes on to tell me that he and Dennis had just picked up an old man who was blind drunk at another bar, caught a cab and headed to “their apartment” in Harlem. When they got there they took the guy’s wallet and pushed him out of the cab. The cab driver then sped off and Scott and Dennis split the money they stole with the driver. To celebrate what they did they headed here. “The funny thing is,” Scott says as if it’s an important point to his story, “I don’t even live in Harlem!”
I don’t know what to do or say when I hear this. I am both shocked and again, intrigued. I have never heard or seen anything like this. Of course, stuff gets weird at Uncle Charlie’s, too, but this takes things to another level. Scott reaches into his pocket and pulls out a wad of bills. “Two vodka-and-sodas with a twist,” Scott says, throwing the money on my tray. “Coming right up,” I cheerfully respond. “Beware of that one.” Don says, pointing to Scott when I return to the bar. “Way ahead of you,” I respond.
Although I didn’t know it yet, this is also the night I will meet my long-term friend Mitch. I am standing at the end of the bar when I feel a tap-tap-tap on my shoulder. I turn around to find this short, zaftig, and very blond kid standing there. He is listing from foot to foot, a huge grin on his face.
“Hi, you’re new,” he says to me; his eyes are slits. “You’re very cute and I love you.” With that Mitch pitches backwards taking three bar stools with him and hits the floor. “You’re making quite an impression,” Don says to me with a laugh.
Then the buzzer starts going off………….. BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ………., BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Don looks at the buzzer, then looks at me. “Sorry, Geoff,” Don says, “Welcome to your baptism by fire.”
Enter The Ninth Circle Part 9
The next thing I know, I am standing in front of a door that has a “Do Not Enter” sign on it. Underneath is a hand-written notation that adds the words, “Fuck Off”! I’m guessing this is in case you missed the first message. How did I get here?
Only moments ago that buzzer sounded and everyone at the bar had jumped into action. Don immediately took an old bedside tray from behind the bar and on it he placed a clean empty mason jar, a mason jar filled with water, two jars of baby food and a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes. He hands me the tray, points to the door next to the stairs, and tells me to go stand there. When I do, he pushes a buzzer and signals for me to push the door open. I go through the door, but block it open with my foot. I look back at Don pleadingly. He laughs and says, “You’ll know when you get there,” as if he already knows the question I’m asking. Then he makes the sign of the cross and laughs. I glare at him.
Behind me in the dim lighting I can see a staircase; there is no where else to go but up. With my knees knocking, I find it hard to steady the tray as I climb the stairs. On the second landing there is a bathroom that has a sliding door and a sign stating that it is the “Employee Only Bathroom.”
At the end of the hall is the business office. The door is slightly open and I can hear the sound of a far off television set. I look in and see no one in the room, so I continue my climb.
On the third floor I come to the door with the “Do Not Enter—Fuck Off!” sign on it. I hold my breath. There is nowhere else to go. Lifting my knee, I balance the tray and I knock. I hear nothing, so I knock again. Again, there is no answer, so I reach out and turn the knob. I am not prepared for what I see, or worse, what I smell.
The first thing I smell is cats. My guess is maybe a hundred cats live here. Pushing open the door, I can see that there are cats, all right. Cats are everywhere. There are cats sitting on the table, cats on the fridge, cats on the floor, and cats on the windowsill.
There are thousands of mason jars everywhere. The jars are all half-filled or overflowing with a yellow liquid. The mason jars take up every single inch of free space there is. That is, if you ignore all the newspapers and the overflowing ashtrays strewn in between. The heat in the apartment is overbearing. All the windows are closed and steamed up.
I resist the urge to vomit. “Hello?” I call out, feeling like I am in the movie The Last House On the Left. I receive no answer, so I call out again, “Hello?”
A voice that sounds like it is spoken through rotting leaves answers me from another room. “Who the fuck are you?” it says.
I look down as a cat wraps itself around my ankles.
Enter The Ninth Circle Part 10
I am frozen to the spot. I can feel the sweat forming again on the back of my neck. I want to drop the tray and run for my life. Whatever this is, it was not worth it. “My… my… my name is Geoff,” I stammer. “Don’t just fucking stand there, get me some water,” the voice demands. “Ice is in the freezer.” I still could not see who it is I am talking to. The smell of death and decay is clinging to everything.
I walk around the piles of newspapers, magazines, and rotting clothes. The cats watch my every move. I am standing in the kitchen, or at least what I think is the kitchen. I can see the fridge, so somewhere there must be a stove. I spot what looka at one time to have been a white microwave oven. A thick layer of grease covers the top and sides, giving it a slightly brownish-yellow “sticky” look.
I place the tray on top of several of the half full mason jars. The smell in the apartment is burning my eyes and nose. “Hurry the fuck up!” the voice yells “I…, I’m going as fast as I can,” I say. I have to keep repressing the feeling that I am going to vomit at any minute. A cat walks on the counter in front of me, dragging its tail under my nose. “Rowr,” the cat says, pausing briefly in front of me and looking into my eyes. Then it turns and makes a return trip.
I am definitely standing on things that have been laid on the floor. If I have to guess I am suspended about five inches above the actualfloor.
“Do you want the water they sent upstairs with me?” I ask. “Do you want the water they sent upstairs with me?” he mimics me. “Fucking genius,” he snarls, sounding like steam escaping a tight valve. “Use your fucking brain.” He hisses. I am listening intently, trying to figure out where the voice is coming from.
My guess is that he is behind the slightly closed door twelve feet away from me. Slowly and as quietly as I can, I begin walking over and around the mounds of garbage on the floor. “What the fuck is taking so long?” he screams. Somewhere in the room with the slightly closed door, objects hit the floor. In his anger he is throwing things everywhere.
I can hear myself breathing as I reach out with a trembling hand and press one finger to the door. It moves slowly inwards but not before letting out a loud creak. “Where is my water? Where is my water? Where is my water?” He begins screaming and slapping his hands on the bed.
The door opens slowly and the smell I first encountered when I entered the apartment is suddenly much worse. I squint into the room. I can’t see anything. The room is dark and the blinds are pulled. The only light is coming from a street light outside.
I see a figure lying on what must be a bed in the middle of a pile of garbage. Leaning up on his elbows he looks at me; I still cannot see his face. “Where the fucking holy God dammed hell is my water?” he screeches. My urge to drop the tray and run is now stronger than before.
Enter The Ninth Circle Part 11
I reach out and search the wall for a light switch. “Don’t turn the fucking light on!” he screams. “I… I… I… can’t see,” I say. “Don’t turn the fucking light on!” he screams again. “I can’t see,” I say again, raising my voice. “Don’t turn the fucking light on, don’t turn the fucking light on, don’t turn the fucking light on!” he screams louder, beginning to slap his hands on the bed again. I start to feel intense pressure and can hear my heart beating faster. “Oh for Christ’s sake, shut up!” I scream, surprising myself.
My hand begins to move faster over the wall searching for the switch, the panic in me rising again. I find it and bring my hand up fast, the familiar “click” sound bathing the room in yellow light. He screams as if he is being doused in Holy Water.
I look over at the bed, where he is writhing and screaming. What I see in front of me is a shriveled old man with yellow skin. He is wearing a filthy stained t-shirt. His hair is short and standing up in all directions. His fingernails are long and broken and he is lying in his own filth.
What really shocks me is that one of his legs is black and swollen, and I swear I can see the bone. The putrid smell is overpowering and I can feel the room spinning. “Oh my god, you need a doctor,” I mumble. “What I need is some fucking water, some fucking quiet, and for you to turn off the fucking lights and to get the fuck out of my house!” he hisses at me.
I run back into the kitchen, open the fridge, find the ice, throw it into the Mason jar, and run back into the bedroom. I climb over all the garbage, come to the side of the bed and extend my hand to him. His hand wraps around my wrist and he pulls himself up to me. He reminds me of a sick bird whose claw has wrapped itself around my arm. I force myself not to scream. He grabs the jar and begins to drink the water, spilling it down the front of himself.
“I need a cigarette now,” he says, spitting water on me. “What you need is a doctor and a shower,” I shoot back at him. “You’re pretty mouthy,” he growls at me. “I am also obviously the only one who’s walked this far into your house in years,” I say, standing back up. I grab his cigarettes and light one. “Who the hell said you could smoke in my house?” he screams.
Enter The Ninth Circle Part 12
“Fuck you,” I think to myself, but I don’t say it out loud. The cigarette smoke encircles my head. It actually improves the smell in the apartment. The ever-watchful cats track my every move with their eyes. I flick the ashes into one of the jars filled with yellow liquid and the smell it returns confirms my fears that the jars might be filled with urine. Now mind you, this is years before we have the show “Hoarders” or anyone knows about how Howard Hughes lived. The term we used back then is “eccentric.”
“Have you eaten?” I ask him. “What the fuck do you think?” he responds. He moves his arms like a spokesmodel on The Price is Right. “Do you see a skeleton lying here?” he asks, spraying spittle into the air. I can see the top part of his dentures lying within arm’s reach; they have unidentifiable fuzz sticking to them. “How long have you lived like this?” I ask. “How long have you been a jackass?” he mimics me.
I let out a heavy sigh to clearly signal that he is annoying me. So many questions run through my head. What am I supposed to be doing up here? Why me? Who takes care of him? Does he ever leave here? Who is he? While I am trying to gather my thoughts, he takes the cane by his bed and sweeps it across a pile of books, sending them crashing to the floor. “Do I have your attention?” he says and then cackles. “Toothless old fuck,” I think to myself.
I look around and take in more of the room. “Is there anything I can get you?” I ask. “Yeah, you can get the fuck out!” he adds with his now-familiar cackle. “With pleasure,” I sing, turn on my heel and head towards the door. I look back at the bed and he shoots me the bird. “Dear Lord, please strike him with lightning,” I pray under my breath. I close the door and lean against the frame. Inside something crashes against the wall. It’s very clear that he has thrown whatever it is in anger.
I head down the stairs, taking them two at a time. I pass the office and glance in again. This time someone is sitting at the desk; their head is down but I can clearly see a straw up their nose. They keep leaning forward and I can see them snorting white powder off a mirror. They glance up, look in my direction and catch me watching. I quickly pull my eye out of the crack in the door; I have had enough drama for the night. Actually, I have had enough drama for several nights.
As I continue down the hall, The Staff bathroom door slides openand about eight people pile out. They are laughing and extremely animated. “Hello!” I say and continue on my way. I get to the door at the bottom of the stairs and wait. I begin to slowly count to ten. Then grabbing the knob, I push the door open.
The first thing I see is a skanky go-go boy standing on the bar. His underpants are around his ankles and he is surrounded by men. He is stirring a drink with his dick. I hear someone yell out “Now this party’s starting!”
Enter the 9th Circle Part 13
“Frightening,” says Don as I walk back around the side of the bar. “You don’t know the half of it,” I say, lifting up the side entrance. “Trust me, I do,” responds Don, handing me a shot. “I’ve had to go up there myself on occasion.”
I don’t even ask what I am about to drink, I just throw it back. The dancer is now sitting down on the bar completely naked and smoking a cigarette. “I’m on break,” he says to me with a wink. There is a really old man leaning on his leg and looking into his eyes. “Isn’t a naked dancer illegal?” I whisper to Don. “Lots of stuff here is illegal,” Don whispers back.
“Okay, so what’s in the wooden boxes I serve with the boilermakers and who’s the old man upstairs?” I ask, looking at Don. Don puts one finger up to his lips. The phone rings and Don grabs it. He looks at me and points to the basement door. “Tree wants you downstairs.”
I walk out from behind the bar. “Be careful,” Don says with a laugh, “there are more monsters in the basement than there are upstairs.” I flash him a “you’re real funny” smirk and cautiously approach the basement door. It can’t get any worse, I think, can it? I grab the handle and yank it open.
The noise level is louder in the basement and the lights are much brighter than in the upstairs bar. The staircase is actually pounding and vibrating in time to the music. I slowly walk down the stairs, waiting to see what this next adventure will bring. The place is jumping. It is fully packed with lots of old men and very young guys. I see that Scott and Dennis have cozied up to an old man at the bar. Scott, ever on the prowl, sees me and raises his drink in my direction.
Tree is behind the bar holding court; he waves me over. “Geoff,’ I want you to meet some friends,” he says, a big smile crossing his face. “Geoff, this Carl,” Tree says, putting his hands on the shoulders of one of his bar patrons. I put out my hand to Carl and he shakes it. Tree moves further down the bar to the next patron. “Geoff, meet Neil.” “Nice to meet you, Neil,” I say, extending my hand.
“And Geoff, this is Bob,” Tree says with a smile. I turn and find myself eye to eye with a blond tussled muscular surfer with killer blue eyes. Words fail me. “Hi, I…, I…,” I mumble. “I am Geoff,” Bob says, finishing my sentence and grabbing my hand in his. I can’t look away from his eyes, and then a perfect smile appears on his face. His teeth are straight, white, and he has a twinkle in his eye.
I stand there not moving for a good three minutes. “Let go of his hand,” says Tree out of the side of his mouth, causing Bob to laugh. You know that part in the movie when the wave crashes on the beach and the music begins to swell? Well, this was that moment for me.
“I hear this is your first night. Are you having a good time?” Bob asks. “Uh huh,” I respond. In my mind we are slow dancing. Everyone around Bob begins to laugh. “Wow, you cast quite a spell,” says Tree to Bob. Bob doesn’t move, he just stares deep into my eyes and keeps the smile on his face. “I…, I…, I am very pleased to meet you,” I say, still looking into his eyes. Bob keeps holding my hand and I feel the warmth of his hand in mine.
Slowly, I pull my hand out of Bob’s, realizing that I am making a fool of myself. “What…, what…, what do you do for a living?” I stammer, still looking at Bob. “Bob’s a lawyer,” Tree says quickly, “corporate law,” adding a wink at Bob. The wink escapes me as I continue to stare at Bob.
“Oh Geoff, wait. Robin!” Tree yells, waving across the bar. “Robin, Robin!” he yells louder and waves his arms like he’s landing a plane. I really don’t need to meet anyone else. But Robin Byrd looks over at Tree, acknowledges him, and begins to walk in our direction. She is wearing her trademark look, a string bikini and cowboy hat. I notice that the bikini is not really holding that much in. She saunters up to the bar and flashes a smile.
“Robin, I want you to meet Geoff, he’s new here,” Tree says, reaching across the bar and pushing me forward. Robin looks at me and I notice she has an eye that sort of just wanders off. She puts her hand and out and says, “Nice to meet you.” “Nice to meet you,” I quickly say. “If you need anything Robin, just ask Geoff,” Tree adds. Then he quickly blurts out, “He’s not from New York City.” Robin smiles and I take a step back. It’s then that I realize I am pushed up against Bob, I can feel him behind me. “Nice,” whispers Bob and puts a hand on my hip. I almost faint.
“Hey, new kid,” someone screams across the room, breaking my moment. I realize its Scott. He motions me over with his ever-present riding crop. “Excuse me,” I say to Robin and Bob. Bob flashes another smile at me and I take a few steps backwards. Quickly I turn and walk right into one of the patrons. “Hello cutie,” the patron slurs. I can smell the booze emanating from him as he is teetering and trying to put his arms around me. I suddenly hear the crack of the riding crop as Scott brings it across the old man’s head. “Move along grossy-grosserson,” says Scott, hitting him with the riding crop again and again. The old man lunges and staggers away from us. Scott grabs my arm, pulling me to the side of the bar, and yanks out a stool. “Have a seat,” Scott says, dusting it off with his riding crop.
I steal a look back in the direction of Bob. He is staring at me with a big smile on his face. “Oh, you like ‘em big and cute?” says Scott, placing the riding crop under my chin.
Enter the 9th Circle Part 14
“I want to tell you one of my favorite stories,” Scott says, turning my face to his, “now that we’re new friends.” “Hello, Miss Thing,” Dennis yells, moving in right behind me. I mentally check to see where my wallet is.
“I once had this roommate who was a 300-pound tacky black drag queen named Laronda,” says Scott, getting an evil look in his eye. “Anyway, she comes to me one day and I tell her that I need a favor.” Dennis snickers behind me. “So, I tell her that my father is sending me money by Western Union and I can’t pick it up.” Scott looks around me at Dennis and they both begin laughing. “So, Laronda says that she will pick the money up for me.” “Delicious, just delicious,” says Dennis twirling the back of my hair with his index finger.
“The day arrives and I send Laronda to Western Union.” Scott pauses and looks straight into my eyes. “Oh, did I tell you that Laronda was illiterate?” Dennis is giggling louder. “She can’t read or write a word.” “So I tell Laronda that she needs to hand the teller this note to get the money.” “Tell him what the note says, tell him what the note says,” blurts Dennis, tugging on my sleeve. “The notes says, ‘My name is Laronda, gorilla woman, give me all your money, I have a gun!’ ” With this Dennis and Scott fall off their stools and begin rolling in laughter. They are falling all over themselves. “The cops…, the cops…, the cops took her away!” Dennis and Scott can barely breathe and are slapping and clinging to each other.
“Can you imagine the look on that teller’s face when a 300-pound tacky drag queen with crooked stockings handed her that note?” says Scott, now red in the face from laughing. They continue laughing and slowly climb back onto their bar stools. I feel as if my mouth is hanging open. Don’t get me wrong, it took years for me to laugh at that story, well okay, weeks. If that story is true, what are these two truly capable of?
An old man squeezes between me and Scott; he is listing from side to side. Scott bounces him like a pinball. Then Scott looks around me at Dennis and whispers loudly, “Oh look, fresh fish!” It’s about this time that I remember I am at work. I have very little money in my pocket and I am not here for a picnic. “Hey guys, I have to get going.” I say.
Scott and Dennis are no longer looking at me and have moved on to greener pastures. Scott is pressed up to the guy from the front and Dennis has his hand on the guys back pocket, encasing his wallet.
I jump off the stool and head back to the stairs by way of Bob. He hasn’t taken his eyes off me and has a smile on his face. He is softly laughing and shaking his head side to side. I point to the stairs and tell him to “Come up and see me sometime.”
Slowly climbing the stairs, I become overwhelmed. I am suddenly aware that I am in a den of prostitutes, thieves, cut throats, drunks, drug addicts, and probably killers. But I have to tell you, I am having the time of my life. Oh sure, I am fresh off the turnip truck from Upstate New York, but I’m not that naïve, or at least I don’t think I am.
I walk back into the bar and Don immediately spots me. I push through the crowd. The jukebox is playing Joan Jett for the fiftieth time that night. Funnily enough, it’s “I Don’t Give a Damn About My Bad Reputation.” Somehow, that seems very fitting at this moment.
Enter the 9th Circle Part 15
“How’s the freak show downstairs?” asks Don with a smile. “Better looking than up here,” I say. “I love my job,” Don says with a laugh, throwing a bottle in the garbage. “Oh hey, take this to the table against the wall,” he says, handing me the now-familiar Sidecar. I place it on my tray and head into the crowd. I get felt up crossing the crowded bar and I can’t tell who has grabbed what at this point. I put the drink down in front of an old man and notice that a young kid of about fifteen is sitting at a table in the back in the dark. He has curly black hair, a muscular build, gray muscle shirt, and shorts. At first I don’t see him as much as I smell him. This is my first meeting with a male prostitute who has been given the nickname “Stinky” by the bar staff. Stinky has one arm around this old man’s shoulders and the other on his lap.
“Hey, you’re kinda cute,” says the old man through squinted eyes. “How much for a dance?” he asks, lurching forward, almost falling. “Really,” I think to myself. “What does he think, this is 1930s Berlin?” I am suddenly reminded of a Donna Summer song and want to tell him it’s ten cents a dance, but I let it pass. Stinky waves his hand at me and tells me to “move on.” “Aren’t you fancy,” I mumble under my breath to Stinky. Stinky shoots me daggers with his eyes.
I move back into the crowd and someone grabs my arm. “I want a beer,” the man says to me. “Okay,” I say squinting at the bar and hoping to read the bar taps. “What kinds of beer do you have?” he asks, looking right into my eyes. “I’m not really sure,” I respond. “I’m new here”. “Well, can you go find out?” he says, sounding slightly irritated and raising his voice. “Of course,” I say, using my best Snow White voice, and head to the bar. In time I find out that this man is a regular at the bar and years later will be nominated for a Tony Award, but tonight he is on his best behavior and his anger medication seems to be working.
I head over to the bar, and Don can see which table I just came from. “Watch out for that one.” he says, swirling one finger counter clockwise around his ear. “He wants to know what kind of beer we have,” I say. “That one? He’s here nightly. He knows what we have.” I look back at the table; the guy is staring at the ceiling. “Oh, okay,” I say. “Would you like me to tell him that?” I say, my voice dripping in sarcasm. Don rolls his eyes and starts naming all the beers and I begin writing. “Got it,” I yell, and head back to the table. On my way there, Scott pops up in front of me.
“I have something to tell you,” Scott says, and I lean in. He proceeds to grab the back of my head and kiss me right on the mouth. I try to pull back from him. This is a little strange and I am completely uncomfortable, but flattered. I quickly imagine what kind of life we will have on the run. Scott pulls back, looks into my eyes, and tells me that I belong to him. With that, he turns on his heel and saunters away. I feel branded and a little tarnished. I walk back to the table feeling a little dazed as well.
“What took you so long?” the Tony nominee-to-be asks. Jesus, so many people to answer to. I am completely exhausted. “Long beer list,” I say, not missing a beat. “Well good, because I now want something with gin instead.” “What kinds of gin do you have?” he says, narrowing his eyes at me. Resisting the urge to slap him across the head, I just wander away from the table and head back to the bar.
Enter the 9th Circle Part 16
Don goes through the various gins he has behind the bar. I resist the urge to order a glass of warm piss to dump on this patron’s head. The bar is packed to overflowing, naked stripper boys are dancing on the bar, the basement door has a steady stream of people heading in and out of it and the women’s room has a line waiting to get into it. In my experience the women’s room in gay bars is usually the place where people go to do their drugs without fear of a female actually needing to use it.
Suddenly, I hear a loud screaming match starting between two patrons. This quickly escalates into the pushing of each other and chair throwing. The whole room seems to be moving with the chaos as the bar crowd is pushing back and forth, now punches are being thrown. I see an old blue haired queen stand up on his chair, afraid of being caught in the middle he flutters his hands in the air. “Get Brian,” Don yells to me.
I climb up and kneel on the bar and begin searching the crowd for our bouncer. The fight is so out of hand at this point that people are ducking for cover as the crowd is pushing back and forth. I spot Brian in the corner, he’s on the pinball machine.
“Brian, Brian!” I start screaming. Brian is clearly involved in his game and can’t hear me. The fight is only about twelve feet away from Brain, but he doesn’t even notice or seem to care.
I squeeze through the crowd all the while ducking punches and push my way over to the pinball machine. Yelling to be heard I scream “Brian, there’s a fight and we need your help,”. Brian’s eyes are glassy and he mumbles, “I just put a quarter in the game.” “Brian, I say, did you hear me? There’s a fight going on and we need your help!” “Did you hear me? He yells, not looking at me “I just put a quarter in this game and I want to finish playing!” I look at him and I can’t believe what I am hearing.
Reaching behind the machine I find the cord and follow it to the wall. Grabbing it firmly, I give it a snap. The plug flies free of the socket, shutting the game down immediately. Brian pauses as if caught in headlights and begins flicking the flippers, then turns and looks at me. “Fucker!” he screams, his face immediately turning crimson. He lunges and I duck backwards into the crowd. As I run towards the fight, I am again ducking blows. Brian is right behind me and, as luck would have it, Brian gets punched squarely in the face. That’s all he needs to release the rage he has inside. Suddenly, bodies start flying around. Its like watching a Popeye cartoon.
People are flying through the air and I can see Brian in the middle. I head for the safety of the bar. Directly in front of me on the other side of the bar is Bob. “I heard that there was a fight, I came to make sure that you were okay,” he says, adding a smile and slips his hand over mine. In the middle of all this chaos, I am frozen to the spot.
Enter the 9th Circle Part 17
I can’t believe that Bob is concerned about me. I just met him, I know nothing about him, and suddenly here he is, standing right in front of me and telling me that he is concerned about me. The bar is in complete chaos and punches are being thrown. Chrissie Hynde’s “Message of Love” is playing on the jukebox.
Over the roar of the crowd I tell Bob to go to the other end of the bar near the exit and I will meet him there. A wooden chair gets launched out of the crowd and hits the floor about a foot away from me. “Having fun yet?” Don yells at me while scooping up patrons’ drinks in the hopes that they don’t become additional weapons. “I love it,” I respond as I run behind the bar. I reach the end, use the sink as leverage, and hop onto the bar. Sitting on my butt I swing my legs over and land on the floor. Then I follow Bob out the front door.
Bob stops on the sidewalk right in front of the stairs. “Exciting night, huh?” Bobs says. Somewhere inside the bar a chair smashes to the floor. His eyes twinkle while he talks. “I’ll never forget it,” I say. Bob chuckles. “Neither will I,” he says putting his hand out, reaching for mine. I grab his hand and stare into those eyes. “So blue,” I think to myself. “Are you working tomorrow?” Bob asks. His eyes glance at the building and at the Ninth Circle sign. In the distance I can still hear the fight going on. People are running out of the building as if it’s on fire. “Not here,” I say hoping that he can’t hear the sadness in my voice. “However, I will be at Uncle Charlie’s.” Bob smiles and says, “Good, I will see you there.” Bob takes a slow step back, releases my hand, turns and heads up the block. He turns around twice to make sure that I am still watching. I am.
I turn back to the bar and take a step up the stairs when Brian appears, dragging someone down the stairs. He hoists the guy up in the air, and throws him into the middle of the street. Then as if he is in a movie, he brushes his hands against each other. Brian then turns around and points his finger directly at me. “You ever pull the plug on my game again and I will kill you.” “Got it,” I say out loud, secure in the knowledge that I will probably have to do it again sometime.
I walk back up the stairs and into the bar. The scene is grim. The bar looks exactly like a place where a huge fight just happened. People are sitting around nursing wounds and nursing drinks. The party is pretty much breaking up, and the people who didn’t run out during the fight are now starting to leave. Scott walks out of the bar with Dennis. In between them, and being supported by them, is an old man who can barely walk. “He’s loaded,” Scott says as he walks past me making the “he’s got money” sign by rubbing his fingers together. The old man’s feet barely touch the floor, and are being dragged behind him. As I watch this old drunk deer being led to the slaughter, I stand in silence. “Good night boys,” is the best that I can muster up.
I re-join Don behind the bar and help clean up. It has been quite a night and I am wiped and ecstatic all at the same time. I begin to pile chairs on the bar and Brian slithers up behind me. “What are you doing later?” Brian asks. “Going home,” I respond. “My home or your home?” Brian says with a slimy grin on his face. I can feel a look of disgust cross my face and I do nothing to hide it.
For the next twenty minutes Brian follows me around the bar asking this question a million different ways and gets the same answer every time. I bid good night to Don and head out to the sidewalk. Brian runs out after me and grabs my arm; we walk together to the corner. Once there I put my hand in the air and a cab screeches to a stop. Brian motions for me to get in, and being the gentleman he is, opens the door for me. I climb in, grab the handle, slam the door in Brian’s face and quickly push down the lock. “Drive!” I scream to the Cabbie. The driver does not have to be told twice and hits the gas. As we peel out, I look out the back window and see a new look cross Brian’s face. The new look is called shock.
Enter the 9th Circle Part 18
The taxi races through several red lights on its way across town. Holding tightly, my hand is wrapped to a strap attached to the top of the door and I become slightly airborne when the driver takes the corners. I’m not sure he knows that I was not in danger when I yelled at him to drive.
“Good God, what a night!” I think to myself. How do I process any of it or make any sense out of what I just went through? It was a total freak show! A truly wonderful freak show, but still a crazy whacked-out nonstop freak show. I really have a lot to think about before I go back. Can I do it again?
“Boy, was that place crazy,” I say to the driver. He looks at me in the rearview mirror and nods his head. I can tell that he doesn’t understand a word I am saying or could care less. Now don’t get me wrong. I loved every crazy minute of it and will be counting the moments until I get to go back. Well, that also has a lot to do with Bob.
The cab pulls up outside of my “new” apartment and screeches to a halt. I hand the money to the driver over the front seat and slide out. The place I am staying at this month is the only high rise located on Astor Place in The West Village. It is very clear to the doormen that I don’t have the income to stay in a building like this. My friend Susan who lives here is working out her inheritance and is currently in Los Angeles, so I am staying at her place, paying a low rent and taking care of her two cats, one of them being a 14-year-old Siamese. It was kind of a last minute thing.
I have another friend staying in my apartment. That apartment is the amazing carriage house located on 13th Street. Actually, technically it is now a sublet of a sublet, but my friend seems happy with the arrangement. As long as someone pays the rent, everyone in town looks the other way. I know that it sounds confusing, but in New York it appears as though everyone has a special deal worked out.
This building is the first high rise in The Village and it caused quite a scene when it was built. All I see coming and going in the building are rich socialites and their drivers, and older men in suits with young girls on their arms. Every time I walk into the lobby of this building on Astor Place, the doormen ask me who I am here to see. It gets really tiresome really fast, but they seem to enjoy it. Tonight there is a new twist to the routine; the lone doorman asks me for ID as well. I have repeatedly told him that I am living in Susan’s apartment while she deals with a death and is out of town. I know it’s a lie. I know that she is in L.A. drinking and having a party, because she calls me slurring twice a week, but I figure I shouldn’t share that part of the story with him.
I take the elevator up the twelve floors and step into the hallway. It’s a quick three steps to the apartment. Fumbling in my bag, I pull out the keys, turn the lock in the door, and step inside. The apartment is dark, but slightly illuminated by the light in the boa constrictor’s tank. Her name is Jasmine and she is my baby. I look at her, she is three feet long and tonight has her head tucked into the folds of her body. She is fast asleep. I have had her since she was little and I’m surprised at how affectionate she actually is. I throw the keys onto the counter and they scatter to the floor. I am too tired to bend over and pick them up.
The apartment is a one bedroom with a loft. The view from the living room is breathtaking. The apartment has floor-to-ceiling windows and the ceiling is about 20 feet away. New York is beautiful, and tonight I can add dangerous and scary to that list.
I pull off my clothes and climb the ladder to the loft. Once up there, I have to crawl on my hands and knees to get to the bed. My head hits the pillow and I don’t wake up until the alarm sounds.
Being jerked awake, I sit up quick in bed; the ceiling is directly two inches above, so I am always careful not to smash my head. I am so groggy, I feel as if I never went to sleep. “What a crazy night,” I say out loud to myself. I replay it in my head.
I have a busy day ahead of me and I run through the mental list of what needs to be done. Today before I go to work at Uncle Charlie’s, my agent got me a go-see today at 1 p.m. Yes, I have an agent. I got him through a friend of a friend. Another New York deal. A Japanese company is looking for American models to star in their ad campaign. I have to call him to double check that it’s still on. I have a little bit of time before I have to be there, so I should make the call in the next hour. Next on the list, I plan on taking a couple of dance classes and I have a musical theatre audition. I feel a day of rejection coming my way.
I crawl out of bed and across the floor on my hands and knees to get to the ladder. Once there, I have to turn around to go feet first down the ladder. The same windows that gave me such a beautiful view last night gives my neighbors and the people of NYC the view of my legs kicking while hanging over the side of the loft as I try to get my legs on the rungs. The people of NYC also get a good view of my underwear. It is a skill I am learning. You sort of have to kick your feet out in the air and grab the top of the ladder. It is taking me awhile to perfect this technique.
I reach the ground floor safely and the cats are racing around to get fed. I have brought my two over here and now there are four of them needing my attention. The poor Siamese is sitting on the couch crying. I go over to her and pick her up. It’s then that I realize that she has pissed on the couch and has been lying in her own filth. “Why is everyone around me lying in their own piss lately?” I say out loud to no one. “God damn it,” I scream in frustration. Now I have a huge chore to do before I can even get out of the house.
Jasmine the Boa Constrictor is awake and pushing her nose against the top of her tank. A thin screen held in place with clamps placed atop her aquarium stops her from wandering around the house. She has gotten out on several occasions; this makes the cats very nervous. I add a mental note to the list, “Got to go to Petland and buy a rat. It’s time to feed Jasmine.”
Enter the 9th Circle Part 19
‘What do you mean I can’t buy a rat if I have to feed it to a snake?” I ask the girl behind the counter at Petland. “Those are the rules and besides, this is a fancy rat,” she says to me, not missing a beat. “A fancy rat?” I repeat, slightly puzzled. “Yes,” she sighs, as if she is pointing out the obvious. “What’s the difference?” I ask. She sighs even louder and rolls her eyes to the heavens. “A fancy rat has long fur and is raised as a pet.” With this said, she tries to walk away from me. “Okay, okay,” I put up my hand to stop her. “What if I don’t have a snake and I just want to buy a rat?” “Oh, that would be a completely different story,” she replies and positions herself in front of the register. “Okay,” I say, “I need to buy a rat.” “What kind of rat do you need?” she asks. “Oh, anything you have lying around,” I respond, holding my breath. “I have a fancy rat,” she says, motioning to the drawers behind her. There are about thirty rats climbing all over each other.
Now, I have always been a member of the ASPCA and PETA and this is the downside of owning a snake, but unless the snake is going to eat my cooking, this is what I have to do. “Sold!” I sing out. “You’re not feeding this rat to a snake, are you?” the girl asks narrowing her eyes. Not believing that this is really happening, I cross my fingers in my pocket. “No, no, not at all,” I say, placing my other hand up in the air like a good boy scout. With this she reaches into a drawer, lifts up a big black and white rat by the tail, and drops him into a box, then pushes out the air holes. I hand her money and she drops the box into a plastic Petland bag.
Thanking her, I walk back onto the street and head over to St. Mark’s Place to wander through Trash and Vaudeville. I roam through the racks; the rat is starting to become very active in the box. I am not really seeing anything that I like, and walk into the shoe department. I am delaying my return to the apartment because my friend Missy has moved from Boston to NYC. After a couple of conversations, Susan thinks it’s a great idea to have Missy take over her bedroom and let me keep the loft. Before this time Susan’s bedroom door had been kept locked, so she could travel from coast to coast and have a place to stay. Missy has moved to New York to study at NYU and could actually save a couple bucks living with me. I have no problem with this at all. I would like to give her some space, because today she is studying with some friends. Missy has told me how hard it is to make friends here in the city and I can’t be her only one.
My friend Regina will also be staying in the apartment for the next couple weeks, as she is in between theatre jobs. Susan thinks this is a great idea and pockets the extra income. After a couple of months, Regina and I will end up moving in together at The Imperial Courts Hotel on 79th Street. That is, after we meet Susan’s mother during an unexpected visit and realize that it’s going to become a regular thing.
I have some extra time to kill; I called my agent earlier. My audition for the Japanese company will take place later in the week. I would like to wander some more but the rat is really active. I walk back to Astor Place and show my ID. It’s the same doorman I saw as I was leaving. “What do you have in the bag?” the doorman asks. The bag is out of control, and I have to keep giving it a little shake because the rat is trying to save itself by eating through the box. I shrug my shoulders and ignore the doorman.
Alone in the elevator, I can see the doorman leaning over his post to watch the doors close on me. The ride up is quick. I get to the apartment and unlock the door. Regina is on the phone in the open kitchen. The cord is stretched within an inch of its life. Missy is sitting in the living room, holding court with two other students. “Geoff, I want you to meet two of my friends from NYU,” she yells to me. I wave and let them get back to studying. Regina waves from the stool she is perched on.
I walk over to Jasmine’s cage and release the clamps that hold the lid in place. Jasmine is wide awake and knows what’s about to happen. She begins to climb to the top of the tank. The rat is now out of the box and spinning in the bag.
To feed a captive boa constrictor, you need to stun its food or it will attack the snake, sometimes hurting or killing it. I swing the bag, hoping to make the rat dizzy and stunned, but swinging it causes the bag to break and the rat flies into the air. Missy’s friends just sit there, looking stunned by all of this. I run after the rat, who hits the floor and runs into the living room. Grabbing the box, I chase the rat into the corner of the room and trap it underneath. Regina is sitting on a stool, still on the phone. She has witnessed the feeding of Jasmine on several occasions and this doesn’t faze her in the least. She has however, put one finger in her ear so she can hear her conversation.
I dump the contents of the box into another bag, swing it and bring hard down on the counter. Missy’s friends jump up, grabbing their things, and almost fall over each other trying to get out. I swing the bag again and bring it down even harder. Missy has followed her friends to the door; they are horrified by what I am doing and suddenly have a million reasons why they have to leave. “Hand me the hammer,” I scream, as the rat is fighting for its life. Without missing a beat or getting off her stool, Regina reaches down into one of the drawers and hands me the hammer. This is so not the way I want this to go and it is one of the reasons I will find Jasmine a new home. I don’t have the stomach for this.
I bring the hammer down hard and the rat stops moving. Grabbing the end of the bag, I drop the rat into Jasmine’s tank. Jasmine wastes no time grabbing the rat, and wraps it up with her body. Missy is now an inch from my face. “Fuck you Geoff, you ruin everything!” she screams and walks into her bedroom, slamming the door. The pictures on the wall jump.
Regina and I just look at each other.
Enter the 9th Circle Part 20
I return to Uncle Charlie’s in the afternoon to work the Happy Hour shift. It is one of the best happy hours in New York City. Everyone is aware that the bartenders tend to have a heavy hand when it comes to making drinks; that and the fact that the bartenders love to overpour. Imagine this deal at two for the price of one. I arrive and the place is quiet. It is two hours before Happy Hour officially begins. Of course, the bar has its regulars who arrive the minute the place opens, tend not to move from their spots, and get asked to leave when we close. As I breeze by them, they yell out various greetings.
“Thank God,” I say as I’m passing through the bar. I see that the usual crew is working. Mitch runs over to me, rolling his eyes. The schedule has gone up and we are both working the holidays. Oh well, I figure that if I have to work during the holidays, Mitch and several of the other employees are people I consider family. Uncle Charlie’s is home for a lot of people who have nowhere to go, both staff and clientele. I spend a lot of time celebrating with the regulars.
I look around the side bar and see Charlie the DJ. He waves at me and Mitch as we hurry past on our way downstairs to clock in. Walking by the office, I see that Seth is working. “He’s in a mood,” Mitch warns me as we pass. “What a shock,” I think to myself.
Arriving at the lockers, I pull my Charlie’s shirt out of the bag and begin to dress. Several bartenders arrive and begin to change their clothes, getting ready for the shift. One perk of working here is that the staff is beautiful. Most of the time they are hired for their looks and it’s an extra perk if they actually know what a vodka and soda is. Joe, the bartender of “The Pizza Boy Delivers” fame, comes running into the room and hastily strips off his clothes. It is a beautiful sight to behold and Mitch elbows me to make sure I am paying attention. You don’t have to nudge me twice. “Hello Joe,” Mitch sings making goo-goo eyes in my direction. Joe, pulling his shirt over his head, grunts in response.
Mitch and I finish dressing quickly and head back upstairs to the bar. Thank God there is very little prep work to do. Tonight I am a cocktail waiter. Tomorrow, I am a cocktail waiter and unfortunately, next week I am still stuck being a cocktail waiter. Eric the Fish breezes into the club, waving his hand in my direction. He’s hard to miss, being nine feet tall. He looks like an oddly handsome Joey Ramone. “Sorry I’m late, ladies,” he squeals as he runs by. I look at Steve the bartender; he rolls his eyes.
The bar begins to fill up; people like to be here the minute the clock chimes “Happy Hour.” Patrons get their drink on and then move on to the dance clubs. There is no dancing in Uncle Charlie’s. I don’t know if it because of the Cabaret law or because it’s “not cool.” We have a DJ, music videos, and the best looking crowd.
Hoping to make a lot of money tonight, I approach my first patrons. It’s a small group of young twinks. They are all looking around to see if they are getting noticed. “Can I get you anything to drink?” I ask as I approach. “I’ll have a vodka tonic,” one of the guys says. The other three tell me that they are waiting for Happy Hour to get going a little more. “Great, more of the stand and stare crowd,” I think to myself.
“What do you do for a living?” one of them asks me. “I’m a dancer,” I respond. “Oh, really.” he says, a big grin forming on his face. “Where do you dance?” he asks, looking at his friends. Not really sure where this line of questioning is going, I respond, “Mostly musical theatre and dance companies.” “Oh,” he says. “Have you ever danced at the Gaiety?” he asks, his eyes getting big. “Where’s the Gaiety?” I ask. He tells me the address and says that he saw a really great show there just the other night. “Thanks for the tip,” I say and tell them, “I will check it out tomorrow.”
I walk away thinking about how nice they were but decide to keep the Gaiety to myself. I don’t want to let other dancers working at Charlie’s to know about the place. How great would it be to work as a dancer in New York and not have to go out of town all the time?
Walking back to the bar, I notice a very skinny boy sitting all by himself. He looks as if he’s been crying and he keeps nervously scanning the crowd. I quickly walk over to him. “Are you okay?” I ask. He looks at me with bloodshot eyes. In between sniffles he tells me that he believes his boyfriend is cheating on him and hopes that he will catch him here. “God, that sucks,” I say sitting down next to him. “Can I get you a drink?” I ask looking around. Then under my breath I add, “On the house?” “That would be nice,” he sniffles in response. “I’m Geoff,” I say thrusting out my hand. “Hi, I’m John,” he says grasping it firmly.
I walk briskly over to the bar and explain the situation to Steve. Steve looks across the room and shakes his head. “So sad,” he responds. Both Steve and I are bleeding hearts when it comes to someone in distress. This is a common story we have heard once too often while working here. While waiting for the drink, I scan the crowd, hoping to see Bob. Mitch walks by and sidles up next to me. “Looking for Bob?” he asks, placing a finger under his chin. “Why. as a matter of fact, I am. Please let me know the minute you see him,” I reply. Mitch nods and turns on his heel.
Enter the 9th Circle Part 21
Two hours before closing time, Mitch passes by me, announcing Bob’s arrival in a loud whisper, “He’s here.” Trying not to look desperate or eager I say, “Thanks,” and continue leaning on the side bar. From my position I can look into the mirrors and see the people in the bar without having to look directly at them.
Uncle Charlie’s has three bars in one, and has started to add little stages in each room for strippers. I see Bob walking through the front bar looking for someone. Hoping it’s me he’s looking for, but not wanting to seem overanxious, I stop leaning and sneak out through the back bar, scooting into the hallway that connects it to the front. That way I can just “accidentally” run into him.
Pushing my way through the people in the hallway, I walk right up behind him. He is still searching around the bar when he turns and crashes into me, knocking my tray to the floor. “Holy shit,” he yells, and we both bend over to pick up my tray. A big smile begins to form on his face as we slowly stand up. “I have been looking for you,” he says, his blue eyes twinkling. “You were?” I say, innocently looking around. “I forgot,” I say, “did you tell me that you were coming in here tonight?” I let my eyes stare into his. He laughs his gentle laugh and then sighs. “It’s good to see you,” he says, a smile forming again. “You, too,” I say. “I have met some of the loneliest people in here tonight.”
I look around. The bar is packed. I’ve always thought it was strange that you could sometimes feel loneliest in a crowded bar. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he says with a laugh. “Would you like to talk about it?” “Not right now,” I say. “I only want to talk about happy things.” With this he takes my hand, looks into my eyes, and asks me if I would like to go out with him after I get off work. Trying again not to seem too eager, I tell him that it will be around 3:00 a.m. “I’ll see you then,” he says, cupping my chin in his hand. He turns and heads to the front door. He turns around, raises three fingers and mouths the words, “See you then.” Right at this moment I feel like I’m the only person in the world.
I turn around and push my way through the crowded bar, looking for Mitch, and I beg him to work the rest of the night for me. He reminds me that he is already working, so it would be impossible to cover my shift. “Crap, you’re right,” I say dejectedly.
“Oh well then, do you want to play a game?” Mitch asks looking towards the back bar. One of the favorite games that Mitch and I play is called Numbers. Numbers is a game where we walk through the bar, stand in front of a patron, and discuss what we think their faults and their strengths would be. We judge them in beauty and talent, and finish with a number from one to ten. Then we then announce their final number to their faces and wish them all the best in the future. Most of the time the patrons we rate are either falling down drunk, or nodding out because they are on drugs. With luck the person is awake, lucid, and highly insulted.
Eric the Fish slides up to us. “Oh, giiirrrrrrrlllllllllll,” he says, scanning the crowd, “do you want to play the Numbers game?” He opens his arms to display the crowd before us. “We’re one step ahead of you,” I say, “let’s do it.” Starting against the wall, we find some young boy who looks like he just got out of high school and begin with him. Just our luck, he’s bombed. Eric the Fish grabs his arm and spins him before us. “Throw him back,” I say, “he’s not fully grown yet.” Eric twirls the bewildered boy back against the wall. We take our time going through at least the first ten victims when I realize that I’ve got bills to pay. I become aware of this because I can see Jeff the bar manager looking at me. Eric and Mitch follow my eyes and see him too. We scatter like roaches when someone turns the lights on. “Game over, giiiirrllllllll,” squeals Eric the Fish, ducking out of the room. I make a quick swoop into the hallway and back around to the front bar.
I cut through the crowd and look for John. I am avoiding work tonight. I want to make sure that he is all right. The last time I saw him was a while ago. Mitch and I meet back around the front of the bar. “Have you seen John?” I ask. “Oh, he left hours ago,” Mitch says. The bar manager comes around the corner causing Mitch and me to scatter again. Looking at my watch, I realize it’s last call — one hour before we close, and two hours before I see Bob.
Enter the 9th Circle Part 22
I cannot get out of there fast enough the minute my shift is done. Bob is waiting outside for me with a flower in his hand. We walk around the Village and he takes me to an all night diner. I am enwrapped by all of Bob’s stories. He drops me off at the door of my apartment building at 6:00 a.m. After finding my identification, I am allowed access. When I turn back around, Bob is looking at me through the window. Our eyes meet and he waves goodbye.
I tiptoe into the apartment, hoping not to wake anyone. Climbing the ladder to the loft, I crawl across the floor and fall asleep on the bed in my clothes. Four hours later the three phones in the apartment are ringing. One phone is ringing downstairs in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, and the other right next to my bed. I ignore it but Regina, downstairs in the kitchen, does not. “Geoff,” she screams from the bottom of the ladder, “Your agent is on the phone, and he’s pissed.” Quickly sitting up in bed, I reach for the phone next to the bed.
“Hello?” I whisper. “Where are you?” my agent screams into the phone. “I’m at home,” I answer. I can’t seem to get my voice above a whisper. “I got you an audition for a commercial in one hour and I’ve been calling you all morning.” Richard quickly explains that he submitted my photo to a top photographer from Japan who is here in New York looking for models to be “the face” of a new Japanese company. “Richard,” I croak “where am I going?”
Searching around the room, I look for something to write with. He gives me the address and I jot it down with a red marker. “Oh, okay,” I say, “I’ll be there.” “Jesus, what is wrong with your voice? Do something about it!” he screams, slamming the receiver in my ear.
I skitter across the floor on my hands and knees and quickly climb down the ladder. Regina is waiting at the bottom. “God, you look awful,” she says as I brush past her, still in last night’s clothes. Looking in the bathroom mirror I see that I have bloodshot eyes, and my hair is standing straight up in all directions. “Oh, God,” I croak again, sounding like Brenda Vaccaro. “I have lost my voice.”
Having little time, I quickly strip and jump into the shower. I’m racing against the clock. I need to be across town in no time flat. Dressing quickly with no time to lose, I hurry out of the building and hail a cab, telling the driver to step on it.
When I arrive at the audition, I find the monitor and check in. I am dressed in a black t-shirt, blue jeans, and black motorcycle boots. My hair is sticking up in all directions and held in place with Dippity-do. Looking around the room, I realize that I’m in a room filled with male models. In my mind, I’m the only one that looks like a real person. Everyone else looks like they have just stepped out of the pages of GQ magazine.
I am called into the room with about twenty other guys. We’re lined up, and the casting director asks for our portfolios. I hand over my picture and resume. One of the guys next to me snickers. Then we’re asked a little bit about ourselves and handed a script. Not only are they doing a photo spread, they’re looking to hire for a commercial training video. They go down the line, asking us to read aloud, one at a time. I am terrified to open my mouth in this group. When it’s my turn to read the guy next to me snickers again. After I’m done I shoot him a look. We’re thanked by the casting director and released for the day. I have to work at The Ninth Circle tonight, so I hurry to catch a nap.
A couple of hours later the phone rings and it’s my agent again. Turns out that the Japanese company is working against a time crunch and they have to cast their project immediately. They tell my agent that they love me and that I have a voice that is perfect for their advertisement and commercial. “Very exotic,” they tell him.
I am so excited and exhausted all at the same time. I look at the clock. I have a couple of hours before work, so I roll over and fall back asleep.
Enter the 9th Circle Part 23
I’m running. I wake up late and realize I only have a half hour before I am supposed to be at The Ninth Circle. Somehow, I slept through the alarm; it had been going off for over an hour before it woke me. Flying out of bed, I almost bang my head on the ceiling of the loft. On my way to the bathroom I slip and almost fall in another puddle of cat urine. If this is the way the night is going to go, I might as well just turn around and climb back into bed.
This poor Siamese cat that my “out of town roommate” has left me is inches away from meeting its maker. Seriously, not that I would really take it to its maker, but it’s about 100 years old in cat life. I haven’t really been home long enough to know if it’s sufferingthough. I am aware that it can’t seem to make it to the litter box in time and has been peeing and pooping everywhere. It does howl constantly but then, on the other hand, it’s a Siamese cat. Apparently, that’s their thing. I will continue to monitor how it’s doing and will do what needs to be done when the time comes. So now, after cleaning up the cat urine, cleaning up the cat with paper towels, and jumping into the shower, I have twenty minutes to get to work. I snatch a banana off the top of the fridge, head out the door, grab a cab, and we zip across town in an effort to get me there on time.
Entering The Ninth Circle, I see Brian at the top of the stairs. “Hey, asshole,” he yells out when he sees me. “You thought you were pretty funny pulling that stunt the other night.” I walk by him as if I don’t hear a thing he is saying. “Good luck trying it again tonight,” he says grabbing my arm. “I will definitely get you,” he adds leaning in close, inches from my face. I pretend that I don’t hear him and head to the back of the bar.
Don is sitting there waiting to take over. I thank God that Don is working and Jerry is leaving early. Jerry is extra twitchy and wound up. I watch him and notice that he can’t stop moving. “You,” Jerry says and points to me, then motions his finger to tell me to “run”. I walk over. “If that buzzer rings tonight,” Jerry says, spraying spittle into the air, “You go upstairs immediately and take care of him.” His eyes glance at the ceiling. I know he means the guy upstairs but secretly, I was hoping that the guy upstairs died before I arrived at work, but apparently, no such luck.
I’m also hoping that Bob will stop in. An hour later the bar is in full swing and I am running my butt off. Looking at the bar, I realize that there’s the usual cast of characters, all sitting where I left them the last time I worked. I am beginning to believe that they are at the bar every night. The only ones I haven’t seen yet are Dennis and Scott.
Two hours into the shift John walks in. He scans the room, sees me and waves. I return his wave and push my way through the crowd to get to him. When I’m a foot away, I can see that he has been crying again. “Are you okay?” I ask. He sniffles and wipes his nose on the back of his hand. “I am here because someone told me that my boyfriend is dating someone here as well.” “Jesus, that sucks for you,” I tell him. “I couldn’t imagine having my boyfriend running around town. I’m so sorry.” I take his elbow and walk him through the bar. A seat opens in front of Don and I push John onto the stool. “Don, buy John a drink on me,” I say. Don sees John’s bloodshot eyes, looks at me, and rolls his eyes into the back of his head.
A commotion starts at the front of the bar. I stand up on the bar rail to look over the crowd. All I can see is someone dressed in a Nazi uniform, next to a six-foot-tall drag queen wearing a veil.
Enter The 9th Circle Part 24
The crowd parts slowly as the Nazi and the six-foot-tall drag queen in the veil start to walk to the back of the bar. The looks on people’s faces cannot hide the shock they feel. When the couple reaches the mid-bar point, another, slightly shorter drag queen enters the bar. The crowd parts again and this new drag queen runs to catch up with her friends. As they get close to me, the shorter drag queen links arm with the Nazi, looks at me and winks. “Scott,” I hiss completely in disbelief. I can tell it’s him by his eyes. I don’t recognize the other drag queen in the veil but the Nazi is clearly Dennis. They continue past the juke box and sit down at one of the tables.
Slowly, and still in disbelief, I walk up to the table. “Errrr….” I stammer, “can I get you two ladies anything to drink?” I look right at Scott and say, “What are drinking tonight, Mrs. Braun?” Scott shoots me a “fuck you” look. “Two sloe gin fizzes for us ladies,” he orders, swirling his hair with one finger while motioning his head towards Dennis, “and he’ll have a vodka and tonic.” I put my hand out to the drag queen in the veil. “Hi, I’m Geoff.” This drag queen reaches up and pulls her veil to the side, revealing a giant handlebar mustache. “I’m Tony,” she says. Taken slightly aback, I think it’s uncanny how much Tony looks like Freddie Mercury. “Coming right up,” I chirp, pretending that this not out of the ordinary, and I turn on my heel.
Walking back to the bar, I can see that everyone is craning their neck to keep an eye on the strange threesome. “Oh boy,” Don says when I give him the order, “how did they make it here without getting killed?” “Do we have a policy about wearing a swastika arm band in here?” I ask. Don just laughs. “Oh, do me a favor,” he says, pointing to a table while making the drinks, “get that homeless bum out of here.” Following where he is pointing I see that a slightly skinny blond-headed kid has sat down at one of the tables. He is slowly dozing off while holding a cigarette. “He’s homeless?” I ask. Don nods his head.
I walk over to Scott’s table and start to set down the drinks. Scott looks up at me and bats his eyes, I burst into hysterical laughter. Scott gives me the “fuck you” eyes again. “Don’t you think I look good?” he asks. Now I can’t stop laughing. It comes rolling out of me like a wave. It is very clear that Scott is insulted, but I can’t stop. “I’ll be right back,” I try to say, but the laughter makes it hard to understand what I am saying. “Stop laughing!” Scott yells, his eyes turning to slits. This only makes me laugh harder.
I walk away and approach the homeless kid who is dozing off. “Hi, can I get you a drink?” He pauses in space. His head stops inches from bumping onto the table in front of him. His eyes pop open and he looks at me. “No, no thanks, I am waiting on a friend.” I look at the bar and see Don watching me and motioning with his thumb for me to give the kid the heave-ho. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to order something if you want to sit here.” With that he stands up. “Are you going to be okay?” I ask, reaching out to steady him. He nods and takes one step forward. Thinking my job is finished, I head back to the bar. “All done,” I say to Don. “Oh really,” he responds, looking back at the table. I look back and see that the guy has only taken the one step before dozing off again.
That’s when the buzzer goes off, signaling me that I am needed upstairs.
Enter The 9th Circle Part 25
The buzzer started to sound with alarming frequency. I was afraid there was a fire in his apartment and he needed help. Everyone at the bar was staring at the buzzer and when I glanced at Don he was shaking his head from side to side. Skip, who was bartending the other end of the bar, pointed at me, and then pointed towards the ceiling. His message was clear, and I was on my way.
Don immediately set up the tray with water, cigarettes, and empty Mason jars. My dinner of one lone banana lurched in my stomach. “Dead Man Walking,” I yelled out, crossing the floor with the tray. I got to the door, looked at Don, and was buzzed into the stairwell. Climbing the stairs, I passed an old man humping Stinky in the corner. Stinky looked at me, nodded, then glanced at his watch. It was clear that he charged by the hour.
Arriving at the second floor, there was the usual cocaine-fueled party happening in the bathroom. I could tell that it was packed to capacity and could hear a choir of voices all trying to hush each other. It’s hard to keep about ten men quiet while they are crammed in a tiny bathroom, putting blow up their noses.
Walking up the stairs tonight seemed like the longest passage of time to me. Allegedly, the man upstairs pressing the button, living in his own filth, was the owner of the bar. I never saw him outside of his room, but legend had it that he used to sit with Janis Joplin when she hung out at the bar back in the 1960s. I was told that he turned a blind eye to everything that went on downstairs as long as he got paid and was taken care of.
I didn’t want to go into his apartment tonight; that was clear to me and my brain. I didn’t want to have to feed him, or worse yet, clean up after him. Just the thought of it made me grab the banister and hold on for dear life. I let out a chuckle, because at this moment I was reminded of the movie The Sentinel, where Chris Sarandon is stroking the cat while Christina Raines gets let in on the plot line that she lives at the Gates of Hell and the demons are busting to be a part of the world. Every night, the owner trapped in his room is the guardian of the Gates of Hell; of that much I am convinced.
Arriving at his “Go Away” sign firmly attached to the door lets me know that I’m here. Well that, the smell of rotting human flesh, and the sounds of the cats. Grasping the knob and turning it in my hand, I use my hip to push open the door. The stench rolls over me in waves. It seems to have increased since my last visit.
Looking around at the sea of cats swarming me, I can see an unusually large number of Mason jars filled with yellow liquid. The sight and sound of the room makes my head swell. Quickly putting down the tray, I run to the sink and cough up my previously-digested banana.
I hear him in the other room. “Who’s here?” he yells and then begins screaming it over and over again. Wiping my mouth on the back of my hand, I call out, “It’s Geoff.” Without missing a beat he screams back, “What the fuck took you so long? I was ringing that bell for hours!!!” Popping my head into the bedroom, I see him lying on his side, facing away from me. He looks so fragile, like a baby bird. An old dirty piss, soiled, shit-stained-smoky baby bird, with a million cats, and questionable personal hygiene.
“Did you just barf in my sink?” he yells, while trying to roll over. “If you fucking messed up my house I will throw you out the window!” I figure that it would take a helluva lot of work to mess up this house, but the thought of cleaning the house with gasoline and a pack of matches needs to get pushed out of my mind.
He immediately starts with his list of demands. “Feed the cats, bring me my cigarettes, and hold that jar while I piss.” When he says this, he breaks into hysterical laughter; something seems to have tickled his fancy. Spittle flies everywhere.
Suddenly he stops laughing and tries to roll over onto his back to look at me. Once he has achieved that, he resumes screaming orders. “Don’t just stand there with your mouth hanging open catching flies,” he yells. “Feed the goddamned cats!”
I walk back into the kitchen. Cats come running from everywhere to get fed. “Food is in the fucking cabinet,” he snarls. I reach towards the cabinet door. I pause and swallow hard. The handle has years of filth clinging to it. I grab and yank it open. Half of the contents avalanche onto the counter. “Don’t mess up my fucking house,” he screams. “Sorry, I’m just redecorating,” I say. This strikes him funny, and he cackles away. “You’re a goddamned comedian, a goddamned comedian,” he says.
I empty the contents of several cat food cans onto slightly used paper plates and put them wherever I see a cat. Then I grab one of the Mason jars, go to the fridge, and throw some ice into it. Walking back into the bedroom, I put it down next to him. “Tell Jerry I want to see the fucking receipts,” he says, trying to lean up on his elbows. I reach around him, grab the pillows, and help him sit up. “Are you trying to break my ribs?” he screams, inches from my face. “That’s it,” I yell. “I’m out of here!” “I can’t do this anymore, I’m done!” I start to stand, but quicker than a flash of light, his hand reaches out and grabs my wrist. His eyes lock onto mine.
“Please don’t leave me,” he begs.
Enter The 9th Circle Part 26
His grip tightens on my wrist and I relax. Looking deep into his eyes I can see fear. It’s the type of fear that comes from slowly becoming helpless year after year. “What do you need me to do?” I ask. His eyes look around the room. “They are trying to kill me,” he says whispering. “Who’s trying to kill you?” I ask, reaching up to cover my nose with my free hand. His stench is overpowering.
“They are, the ones downstairs,” he yells, spraying spittle into the air. I lean back to avoid getting hit by the spray, but he has me in a death grip. “Oh, okay,” I say, not really sure if they are or he has lost his mind. Right now I’m thinking that it could be a little of both. “It will be okay,” I say. Reaching out with my free hand, I try to pry his fingers open, but he holds on. “They sell drugs down there,” he says whispering again. “Do you think?” I ask sarcastically. “Goddamned right they do,” he screams, throwing his head back and letting loose with a cackle. “I have an idea,” I say, slowly wrapping my hand around his hand, trying to pry up his fingers. “What do you say if you let me go, I walk out of here and never tell anyone what I saw?” “You ain’t going nowhere,” he screams shaking his head back and forth.
“I have another idea,” I say slowly. “What if I take that pillow out from behind your back, put it over your face and kill you?” With this said he cackles like a lunatic. “You got spunk!” he says, releasing my hand and laughing uncontrollably. “You don’t need help,” I say stepping back. “I do,” he screams facing me. “The only thing you need is a bath.” With this said I step back and walk into the kitchen. “That, and some Windex,” I add. “I can’t get off this bed,” he screams. I can hear him trying to flip over and face the kitchen.
I am standing in front of the sink looking for a sponge. Maybe I will help him out. What’s it like to be so helpless? I see a bottle of dish detergent that looks like it hasn’t been touched in a while and I grab it. Moving all the crap out of the way, I turn on the faucet and squeeze the soap into the sink. While it starts to fill up I walk back into the bedroom and open a window. “They sell drugs,” he says, craning his face toward me. “No foolin’?” I respond, struggling to pull back the drapes. “You think I’m old and crazy, you think I’m an idiot,” he says, following me with his eyes. “Right on both counts,” I say, picking up several overflowing ashtrays in the room and carrying them back into the kitchen. I can’t locate a garbage can so I make do with a bag half-filled with newspapers on the counter and empty the mound of butts into it.”
“They lie to me,” he says, the panic rising in his voice. “What do they tell you?” I ask. “They tell me I’m crazy.” I silently mouth the words “you are” to no one in particular. “Listen, I’m going to help you out a little at a time,” I say. “I am going to clean a little something every time I come up here.”
“No one visits me,” he quickly adds. Popping my head back into his room I ask, “Would you like me to visit you?” He nods his head and looks at me with sad eyes. “Ok, I will come and visit you whenever I get a chance, does that work?” He looks like he’s about to cry and nods his head up and down. “Good. It’s official,” I say and turn back into the kitchen.
Enter The 9th Circle Part 27
The cats are very interested in the sink filling with soap and water. I’m sure that some of them have never seen this before, so I understand the fascination factor. Picking up whatever resembles a dish, I drop it either into the sink or into the bag that’s headed for the garbage.
“What the fuck are you doing out there?” he screams from his room. “Something you have never done,” I yell back. He cackles that smoky cackle of his, followed by a phlegm-filled coughing fit. “Ick,” I think to myself as I look at the yellow walls. It is hard to breathe in here, so while the dishes soak I decide to tackle the litter box.
I pull my shirt up over my nose. The cats stopped using their litter box long ago and have now taken to relieving themselves in whatever space they can find. My philosophy is to just do the chore and not get caught up in how gross it is. If I think about it I will pass out, and then wake up on the floor in this mess. I decide it’s better to remain conscious.
“I cleaned the litter box the other day,” he screams out. “Uh-huh,” I respond. I am sure that he is confused as to what year it is, not to mention what day it is. “Goddamned cats won’t stop shitting,” he adds. “They tend to do that,” I say, as I use a spatula to remove an especially tough piece of poop from the floor.
I get up most of the cat shit but the ammonia is burning my eyes, so I decide to return to the dishes. The chore takes about 45 minutes of my time, but it’s also 45 minutes that I am not making any money. While drying the last dish, I decide that I’m done here for today, but I figure there’s time for one more chore before I need to get back downstairs. Walking over to the fridge, I put my hand on the door and bracing myself for what I might see, yank it open. I am not sure what I’m seeing in there but the smell alerts me that something had “gone south” years ago. My worst fear was that I would find severed body parts; this smell is even worse.
“Um… When was the last time you ate?” “What are you writing, a book?” he screams at me. “Someday, I hope to,” I yell back at him, “but right now I’m just trying to solve a crime scene.” He cackles, followed by coughing up something and spitting it out. Thank God I’m not looking at him right now. “I get such a kick out of you,” he says. I imagine him wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.
Walking into his room, I come around where he can see me. “I am going to buy you groceries and deliver them tomorrow before I come to work.” For just a moment I see a crack in his façade, but it only lasts a split second and then he is back again. “Are you after my goddamned money?” he screams. “Are you after my goddamned money?” He repeats this over and over. I wait for the tide to settle. “Yeah, I can see that you are living in the lap of luxury,” I say, my face barely moving. His hand shoots out and he reaches for his cigarettes. “Everyone is stealing from me,” he says, a tear forming in his eye. I do my best to ignore this behavior because I am not sure how to process it yet. I grab the lighter off the table and light his cigarette. It shakes between his trembling fingers.
I walk back into the kitchen and look for a pad of paper to write down what he would like me to pick up for him. ”Do you have a pad of paper lying around that I can use?” I don’t get an answer from the other room. “Hello?” I say again; still no answer. Walking back into the room, I find that he has fallen asleep, the cigarette burning in his hand.
I gently take it out of his hand and grind it in the ashtray. I see this as my getaway, and walking gently across the floor, I open the door and step out into the hallway.
Enter The 9th Circle Part 28
I hurry down the stairs hoping that there are still some customers left in the bar for me to wait on. I have spent way too much time with Bobby and I’m not making any money to pay my bills. The party in the bathroom has broken up and the door has been left wide open.
Almost running down the stairs, I pray that the buzzer summoning me back upstairs won’t ring for the rest of the night. I reach the bottom of the landing, and see that Stinky is with another date. This one looks like he has passed out. Stinky is rifling through the old man’s coat pockets. He flashes a smile as I pass by. “Don’t judge,” he says, batting his eyes. “A girl’s got to make a living.”
Grabbing the knob, I open the door to the club and find that the place is packed. The lighting has been turned down and the place is now illuminated by the lights on juke box and various low-wattage lamps on the bar. Don lifts his head while making a drink and motions me over. “Our homeless boy has fallen asleep at the table. Go throw him out,” he says, grimacing. “Where’s Brian?” I ask. Don motions with his head to the pinball machine. Brian is in full ecstasy while he works the flippers and gently humps the game. “I’m on it,” I tell Don.
Walking over to the table I see the homeless guy has only nodded off again, but gives the appearance that he is sleeping. In fact, he is in a full heroin nod. Using a tray, I nudge him and he sways a little with the nudge but is still out cold. I nudge him again and this time his eyes open to half mast. “Time to go, my friend,” I scream in his face. He smiles and nods out again. I repeat the tray nudge and his eyes flap open. He smiles, stands and teeters back and forth. He gains a little speed and tumbles through the crowd. It is like watching a drugged-up Moses parting the Red Sea. The crowd literally jumps to get out of his way.
The patron at the next table signals me to get my attention. “He forgot his bag,” he says to me, pointing to the floor under the table. I quickly go to follow him but then think twice because he has nodded off in the doorway. I will get his bag and bring it to him.
Now I have a new problem. I don’t want to touch his bag, so I go back to the bar and ask Don for the broom. As I am walking back to the table, Mitch comes up beside me. “What are you doing?” he asks. “Getting a bag that belongs to the homeless heroin addict nodding off at the front door.” It strikes me funny and I laugh. Never did I ever think I would use any of those words in a sentence to describe what I was doing during a day in my life.
Holding onto the bristles, I push the broom handle through a loop on the bag. It is rather heavy when I hoist it into the air. “Gross,” says Mitch, taking a step back. No sooner do the words get out of Mitch’s mouth than the bag breaks and scatters the contents to the floor. Mitch and I jump into the air when bottles of Jergens lotion crash to the floor, spraying everywhere. Mitch makes vomit sounds and steps back.
“Good Christ!” I scream out. I look at Don who is laughing his ass off while he watches this. “Can this night get any worse?” I scream as I drop the broom and head back to the bar. “Goddamned junkies,” I scream. I look over at the door while Don hands me some bar rags. I see that the junkie is gone; in his place stands Bob, his eyes scanning the club. When he sees me he flashes the biggest smile that not only lights up his eyes, but also lights up my heart.
“Excuse me,” I say to Don, dropping the rags on the bar. I push my way through the club to get to Bob. I deserve a little happiness — especially tonight — I think to myself. Bob is pushing his way through the crowd to get to me. The jukebox is quietly playing a Lou Reed tune. We meet halfway when Bob throws his arms around me and plants one of the most passionate kisses on me that I have ever gotten. I pause, come up for air and look into his eyes. Then I hear someone screaming, “Geoff, you fucking asshole, you’re the one dating my boyfriend?”
I look in the direction of the screaming just in time to see John standing on his bar stool, tears streaming down his face. I see him raise his arm and cock it back. The next thing I know, I get hit in the chest by a glass. Everything happens so fast. First the glass explodes on my chest and then the bar erupts into chaos. Brian, who was at the pinball machine, literally comes flying through the air out of nowhere and tackles John. Then I can see Brian repeatedly punching John in the face. John’s bloody and bruised face keeps popping up, then disappearing. Brian hits him and he crumples to the floor, so Brian picks him up off the floor and punches him again and again, repeating this until John is becoming pulp.
Bob checks to see if I’m all right, and pushes me to the side as Brian drags John past us. His bloody face is so messed up that he is now just gurgling and spit hangs from his lip. Violently dragging John down the front steps, Brian walks across the street and throws him on the ground. Rule number one is to never beat someone up and leave them in front of your club.
I push through the chaos, dragging Bob with me. I stumble down the front steps. Brian walks past me and says, “Nice job, asshole.” Across the street John is screaming, “Why?” over and over again. It is one of the most guttural cries I will ever hear in my life. I run across the street and kneel next to John who just continues to scream, “Why?”
John lifts his head and looks at me. “Why, why would you do this to me?” he screams. “I didn’t know,” I say, looking at John. “Please believe me, I didn’t know.” “Do you know what he does for a living?” John screams, spit and blood spraying the air. “Do you?” Bob takes my arm and starts to pull me away. “He’s a lawyer,” I say to John, trying to free my arm from Bob. Bob starts to pull at me harder. “He’s in fucking porn movies you ass, he’s in fucking porn.” John just screams “Why?” between sobs. I look at Bob who is shaking his head. “How the fuck did I get here?” I ask myself.