Chapter 6 The Devil you Know 1-17
The Devil you Know Part 1
Jay Street in Albany during the ’80s was a street in transition. It is only two blocks long. Drugs and any other thing you might need to buy are found at the end of one block. At the end of the other block is a park consisting of dead grass and a broken bench. I ran through it once after a drunk night out. The middle of the block is where you need to really watch out. Jay Street is like walking on a paint strip sample, with the tones getting scarier from one end to the other.
Tommy and Roy have bought a beautiful house on the corner of Jay and Dove Street. It is a three-story pre-war building in need of serious repair. They have been doing a lot of the work themselves because Tommy is a contractor, and they’ve spent a lot of time restoring the outside and the main floor. Bill M. and I live in the basement.
It really is a cool little apartment. You enter under the front stairs, unlock the door and step into a little mud room area. A second door leads into our apartment.
Right now, I am crawling around on my hands and knees on the other side of this door, trying to reach it. Bill M. has grabbed me and thrown me through the air and is currently right behind me. Bill M. jumps on me, and just like in the cartoons, we are rolling back and forth on the carpet. I have shoved him off and now I’m crawling and rolling, while throwing anything that my hands can find at Bill M.
Bill M. is screaming nonsensical sentences about how the walls are listening to him all the time and he’s sick of it. I’m screaming for help, and every time I yell he tells me that the landlords know what’s going on, and they have been videotaping it for days. Thank God for horror movies, because they have taught me survival skills. Even though skills like screaming are useless, I quickly adopt the language I’ve heard for dealing with a lunatic. I begin to talk in a soothing voice, saying things like, “I understand. It’s a terrible thing they’re doing.” Bill M. cocks his head while I’m talking. I think of Frankenstein’s monster picking flowers with the little girl. My window of time is not open long and I need to wrap this up and get help.
I come to my feet and bolt for the front door. As I do, I see Tommy coming home and walking up to the front steps. I reach the door and start screaming, Bill M. springs back into life and lunges for me. I grab the knob with all my might and Bill M. is trying to pull my fingers off the knob. I can see Tommy talking to a neighbor and I scream. Tommy’s head turns in my direction and I manage to unlock the front door. Bill M. and I fall into the mud room.
The Devil you Know Part 2
Bill M. is completely out of control and trying to kill me. He is yelling a theory he has about me being a part of some plot to get rid of him. The more I try to talk sense, the angrier he becomes. Bill M. has hit me from behind and knocked me once again to the floor. Now he is punching and kicking me.
Tommy has been working on the flower beds in front of the building and is storing his materials under the front stairs. I get hold of a bag of peat moss and knock it over to the side. Bill M. is in a full incoherent rage and is making even less sense. I begin to grab handfuls of dirt and start throwing it in his face. He is sputtering and spitting the dirt back out, while he is swinging his fists and pummeling me.
“Is everything all right?” I hear Tommy screaming through the closed front door. I begin to scream, “Help!” in response to his question.
Bill M. has now grabbed the shovel and he begins to swing it. He is trying to hit me and connects several times. I can hear Tommy outside, fumbling with his keys and trying to unlock the door. Bill M. swings the shovel again. I roll out of the way and the shovel hits the floor with a “clang!”
Bill M. is covered with dirt and there is dirt in the air. Tommy is wrestling the door open and screaming for Roy to help him. Roy and Tommy always holler out the windows to each other when one of them is down in front of the building. Now I can hear Roy running down the stairs above me. Bill M. wipes his face with the back of his arm. I see this as my window of opportunity and punch him dead in the center of his chest with all my might. I knock him off his feet and the shovel clatters away from him. Grabbing the shovel, I swing it, hitting him in the stomach. Then I swing it again and again. Bill M. is fighting back, and when Tommy pushes through the door I have the shovel above my head, ready to bring it down hard on Bill M.
Bill M. screams that I am trying to kill him with the shovel and that is exactly my thought process at this time: I have to kill him. Tommy knocks me in the chest. I drop the shovel and begin sobbing and shaking. Bill M. is telling Tommy the whole story of how I bugged the room with listening devices and how Tommy and Roy set up video cameras to film him in the apartment.
By the time Roy flies through the door, Bill M. is making less and less sense. I am still screaming and sobbing. Tommy has a “Holy Shit” look on his face and Bill M. is babbling. Roy seems to immediately sense that Bill M. has gone off his medication. He grabs Bill M.’s wrist and begins to lead him back into the apartment and to his bedroom. Tommy stands me up and walks me out the front door, helping me climb the stairs to his house. He leaves me in his living room and dials the police for help.
Ten minutes later there are two squad cars in front of our building. Tommy meets them on the street to explain what he believes has happened. Watching from the front window, I see them enter the basement apartment. One of the police officers walks upstairs with Tommy to take a statement from me. I can see the other officers escorting a dirt covered, rambling Bill M. into the squad car. It is clear to the officers that he is off his medication and they take him to CDPC, the Capital District Psychiatric Center. He will end up staying there for six weeks.
The Devil You Know Part 3
After Bill M.’s freak out, David and I talk very seriously about moving in together. At this time we don’t know how long Bill M. will be gone, but Roy and Tommy have allegedly spoken to Bill M.’s mother and are getting all the news about Bill M. from her.
Roy visits me in the basement later in the day to tell me that I should probably clean up the parts of the house that need it and at least look for any spoiling food left lying around. I ask if he will come in and go with me into Bill M’s bedroom. He sighs, shakes his head, and walks into the apartment.
The house still looks like a bomb has gone off. I haven’t touched anything or picked up anything from the earlier scene. Even after I saw Bill M. being taken away, I still searched inside house to make sure he was gone. David has promised to come over later because I don’t feel comfortable and I just want someone to be there. David makes me feel safe.
Roy walks to Bill M.’s room. Pushing the door further inwards, he takes a step up into the room. I stay down one step and peer around the corner. I don’t want to go into the room. When I searched the house earlier, I didn’t enter his room. I just stood in front of the open door, listening for any movement in the room.
Bill M.’s room is filthy. It is just as unclean as he was when I saw him. The smell of rotting food is overpowering and Roy is pinching his nose while he is talking to me. “The cops tackled him here,” Roy says, pointing to the corner of the room, “and dragged him through the kitchen.” Roy points towards the living room and then towards the street. Then he reaches down and pulls a spoiled banana off the floor. Its skin splits and its rotten insides run over his hand to the floor. Roy gags.
It takes us the rest of the day to get the house clean. We finish just ten minutes before David arrives. He has come directly from working a shift at Jack’s. When I answer the door, his shirt is open and the bow tie is around his neck. I suddenly feel safer.
David and I lock my bedroom door just in case we are going to be killed in the middle of the night. By morning we are talking about the safety of my continuing to live with Bill M. I need to make more money if I am going to move in with David, because there are so many expenses that come with moving. I want to make this break as quick and clean as possible.
I start by letting Tommy and Roy know my plan. They are concerned that I will leave without paying rent and because Bill M. is in the hospital they fear that they could get screwed. I swear to Roy that I will not screw him and I even cross my heart with my index finger to show how serious I am.
I have taken a new job at the Jewish Community Center in Albany and will work any shift that I can. It will not make bring in enough money, so I am still looking for another job. Luckily, I have a couple of leads.
The mother of a friend of mine owns a new business that makes and delivers balloon bouquets. At the initial interview, I lie and tell them that I have a driver’s license, even though it’s pretty clear by the way I look that I walked to the interview. All I have to my name is a GED, a roommate that recently tried to kill me, a hot boyfriend, and a fear of the dark. I tend to avoid saying that at any job interviews.
Sue, my friend and co-worker at the JCC, is worried about my state of mind. She asks me if I want to go on a day trip to New York City. She’s originally from the Bronx and she’s driving.
The Devil You Know Part 4
The trip to the Bronx is both amazing and terrifying. We start the day in New York City. I quickly notice that New York City is a magic land of burning cars, homeless drug addicts, hookers on the stroll, and shady deals going on everywhere. The crazies here are aggressive and in your face.
We park in a lot near the Port Authority Bus Terminal and step out into the world we have just viewed from the safety of Sue’s car. I immediately notice a giant poster for the musical Nine as we are leaving the parking lot. It’s nine feet tall and I plan on acquiring it before I leave. I touch it as we pass, and I figure out that I just have to pop it forward and it will come right out of its frame.
Sue and I link arms with each other as we stumble out onto 42nd Street. The world around me swirls with peep shows, bruised hookers in windows, games of three-card monte, drunk business men slapping each other on the back, and boys spinning on their heads to hip-hop music. I am in love. This is where I need to be and it’s never been clearer in my life. Broadway is gritty and exciting. Madonna lookalikes are everywhere, Keith Haring is the art, women have giant teased hairdos, and beautiful boys in eyeliner line the streets. The subways are filthy and there is no air conditioning. I watch as a homeless woman with a mountain of garbage bags takes up one side of the car. We ride into Greenwich Village, chanting, “8th Street, 8th Street”. We stop in at Trash and Vaudeville to ask the man with giant spiked hair and a kilt where the 8th Street Playhouse is. The Playhouse is showing Rocky Horror at midnight, I have to touch the side of that theatre today or we are not going home.
I am in a swirl of people that fascinate me. It is a beautiful bizarre carnival filled with freaks, old women in house coats next to models next to junkies. Sign me up, I’m coming! This is it! I will be back as soon as I can to live here forever. The day is memorable. I have met the love of my life and it’s New York City. Sue and I stop in a liquor store and get a bottle in a brown paper bag with two straws.
It’s late when we head back to the parking garage. The sun has set and we have had a full day of running around. Sue pays the man behind the cracked bulletproof window and we walk to where she parked her car, a spray-painted penis pointing the way to our aisle. I climb into the passenger seat as Sue starts the car and backs out. I remind her to pull up next to the Nine Poster. It’s going to be mine.
I swing the door open even before Sue stops the car. Jumping out, I run over to the poster, push it up and pop it back to me until it becomes free in my hands. If Sue can pop the back of the car open, there is a huge space where I can lay the poster on top of our suitcases. My heart is pounding as we heave the poster into the car and run back to the front. We both slide into the front seat and Sue peels away from the telltale empty poster frame.
Laughing as we head out of the garage I raise my hand and notice that I have cut the side of it. Blood is all over my palm and slowly I put together what’s going on. I turn around to look in the back of the car. Under the poster is nothing: no luggage, no boxes, nothing. Then I notice that a hole has been punched in the back side window and broken glass is all over my seat. I cut my hand on the glass while sliding onto the seat. Sue and I start to freak out as the clues to what happened to my hand become clear through our boozy haze.
Someone has broken into the car and stolen our suitcases. Sue is freaking out as she figures out what’s missing and what has happened. The plan is that we will spend the night as planned in the Bronx and leave in the morning. We can sleep and drive in the clothes we have and we can shower at Sue’s house. Good plan. We pull into a McDonalds in the Bronx to get a hamburger. We have very little money and when we get back to the car, we see that our front seat has now been stolen.
The Devil You Know Part 5
Sue has had it. Through her sobs I listen to her, how all she wanted was to go away for a day, have fun, and show me her home in the Bronx. “Goddamned Motherfuckers,” she screams into the air. There are large groups of people hanging out nearby who begin to laugh and mock her.
“Sue, get in the car and we will figure it out later,” I say, gently taking her elbow. “Where the fuck am I supposed to sit? Where the fuck am I supposed to sit?” she screams again towards the groups of people hanging out. “Boo, hoo, hoo,” yells a male voice back at her from the crowd. “You better control your woman, faggot,” someone else from the group screams at me. “Get in the car,” I hiss at Sue. All I need now is to take on a group in a fight in front of a McDonalds in the Bronx.
“I want to go home,” Sue sobs. “Get in the car and we can go,” I say,opening her door. “No, I want to go home!” she screams. ‘We are going home,” I assure her. “To Albany?” she sobs.
“Yo, is there a problem going on over here?” one of the guys from the group asks, as he begins to walk towards us. The rest of the group starts to snicker. Sue turns on him and starts screaming, “Someone took my mother-fucking car seat while I was in McDonalds for five minutes!” The guy stands still and pushes his head back as Sue approaches him. “But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you!” Sue raises her hands as if to pound on him. I rush forward, grab her hands and pull her back. I figure we have about one minute to get out of here before we have a real bad problem on our hands.
“Get her. faggot,” a male voice screams. I grab Sue, drag her back to the car and make her get in. “How am I supposed to drive?” she sobs, pounding on the steering wheel. There’s really no way to drive the car without a seat. Looking around, I see a milk crate about fifteen feet away. I close Sue’s door, walk over and grab the milk crate, run around to the passenger side, and climb in. “Here, sit on this,” I instruct her.”
Sobbing, Sue sits on the milk crate and starts the car. She backs up, turns around and pulls out, but not before giving the finger to the large group of guys, who break into hysterics the minute she does it. They mime “Boo, hoo,” as we drive away. “Keep driving,” I tell her as she cries openly. Twenty minutes later we find another milk crate in the gutter and I sit on that for the long drive back to Albany. This experience has sobered us both up. I do my best to encourage her on the way home and make her laugh.
During the next couple of days we laugh and tell everyone the crazy story of our driving to the Bronx and getting our car seat stolen. It’s been chalked up as “Just one of those things.”
I am offered a job at the flower and balloon delivery company called Balloon-Age. My friend Marcie’s mom owns it and I spend the first several weeks dodging giving her my non-existent driver’s license. “Tomorrow,” I tell her as I climb into the driver’s seat of the van.
Balloon-Age will deliver anything for a buck and they do. Marcie’s mom gets the idea to offer singing telegrams and brings on a girl who tap dances and can change the lyrics of songs to include someone’s name. She rides along with me in the van. I am told that I will play the role of the Singing Gorilla, Good Humor Man, or any other male role that she can sell to have her flowers and balloons delivered. We get several calls for a male stripper and Marcie’s mom tries to entice me with the pay of $35.00 per strip if I’ll do it. After the fifth call she turns down, I decide to do it. A call comes in later in the day for a male stripper. It’s for a bachelorette party and I’m asked if I can dress as a cop. We only have the Gorilla or the Good Humor Man costume so those are her choices, Marcie’s mom answers while she gives me a thumbs up.
I am a nervous wreck. I weigh about 150 pounds soaking wet and I haven’t really been working out. I am driving the van dressed as the Good Humor Man when I pull up to the hotel with the party in it. I walk into the room shaking, flowers in one hand, poem with bachelorette’s name in the other hand. The place is packed and the bachelorette’s mother and grandmother sit on either side of her. Everyone coos in excitement. The minute I finish my song, I begin to strip. Well, strip is the wrong word. I am more like Coco in the movie Fame except for the crying. I am on the verge of tears and I really don’t want to take anything off. I look and feel pathetic and the looks of anticipation that all the women had when I arrived are now gone and replaced with looks of “What the fuck?”
I finish my strip act and the bachelorette’s grandmother says, “That’s it?” Then they all go back to talking as if I am not there. I bend over to grab up my clothes and am reminded by the piece of paper near them that I still have to get the mother of the bachelorette to sign the form saying I was here. I have to wait a good five minutes before I can get the mother to turn around. She shakes her head and sighs as she signs.
The Devil You Know Part 6
Very quickly I come to hate my job at Balloon-Age. Marcie’s mom is annoying, loud, pushy, obnoxious, and almost helpless when it comes to doing anything. She constantly reminds us that she is the boss, but she makes us do all her work. She answers the phones, writes up the tickets, and hands them to us. Another problem for me is that she is beginning to suggest a male stripper to appear at everything from a Bar Mitzvah to a Bris.
My job for Balloon-Age now consists of filling balloons with helium, arranging flowers, driving the van without a license, delivery, stripping, and singing telegrams. I am miserable. I talk to David about how miserable I am and he suggests finding another job. Surely I am going to be fired when she finds out I have been driving the van without a valid license.
David has added another job to his growing list of jobs as well. He has started taking on shifts as a bartender at The Gemini Jazz Café on the corner of Lark and Madison. I meet him one night after work and fall in love with the place. The first night I’m there I meet Bob from Sesame Street. I ask for his autograph and he signs a cocktail napkin, “Oscar says have a rotten night.” He is appearing in a show at The Egg down at the Empire State Plaza. The Egg has its own theatre company, run by Patricia Snyder. It consists of a twelve-company ensemble, rehearsal studios, dance studios, offices, and enormous theatres, all run by the State of New York.
The Gemini Jazz Café sits right on the corner and is four stories high. There is a kitchen and bar on the first and third floors, and a bar and dance floor on the second. The owners are a straight couple named Jack and Frankie. Jack is about sixty years old, with red hair, little glasses, handlebar moustache, and a smoking pipe permanently affixed in the corner of his mouth. Frankie is a petiteblonde in her late twenties who used to be a waitress there. Jack was married and divorced once or twice before. They live on the fourth floor in a glorious loft space. The first night I’m there we become fast friends, and soon I’m there almost every night.
One night Frankie and I have a whipped cream fight while the place is open and serving dinner. Frankie has a bull whip and she keeps cracking it while she chases me through the place. I keep tackling her and spraying whipped cream in her hair and on her clothes. Finally Jack puts an end to the nonsense and we stop long enough to surrender the bull whip to Jack, who then chases both Frankie and me through the place while cracking the bull whip.
David and I start to spend a lot of time with Jack and Frankie. Jack is constantly tweaked out of his mind and sniffing, and sometimes I find David in the same state. There is a waiter named Mark who works there and Jack and Frankie keep inviting us to come upstairs and use the bull whip on him. I gently decline.
I get very excited because I go to a theatre audition and get a bit part in Albany Civic Theatre’s Heaven Can Wait. I am just in the first five minutes of the show, playing a recently deceased body that has drowned and is entering heaven with about twenty other people also playing dead bodies. I look sporty in a ’40s bathing suit and slicked-down hair. I am told that I have to wait around all night for the curtain call. It’s okay, because one of the main actors in the show is a guy named Duncan and I am completely taken with him.
The Devil You Know Part 7
I became fast friends with everyone in the cast and was totally excited about seriously making my life in theatre, even though it was community theatre. Heaven Can Wait was interesting to watch from the wings for the first week and then I started to get bored. I was hoping to be discovered as Dead Body Number 3—Drowning Victim, by someone in the audience within the first five minutes I was out there. I was anticipating a chance to get cast in a second show somewhere and was always trying to get the attention of everyone in the cast. I lived just to be onstage.
Fifteen minutes before the show ended, all the other Dead Bodies and I would run to the dressing room and reapply our corpse makeup for the curtain call. We had to look freshly dead as the curtain came down. One night after the show the director pulled me aside and reminded me that corpses don’t wear rouge. I reminded her that I was freshly dead. She reminded me that what she said went.
Iris and Ann were two of the friends I made at Albany Civic Theatre. They both played maids in the show and were very close friends. Iris had a twisted sense of humor and a wicked laugh that came quick and fast. Ann was a little more low-key and had a laugh that reminded me of a fog horn. If you made her laugh she would bleat like a goat and then snort it back in. Iris loved to make Ann laugh onstage and we would often draw attention to ourselves in the wings while Ann was out there. Iris was a little dizzy and referred to herself as a “Total Blonde.” Even though her blond hair came from a box and she was a little zaftig, Iris adopted what she believed was the proper behavior to go with her hair color, even going as far to adopt the voice of Marilyn Monroe not only onstage, but in life as well. So many times I would tell her that I didn’t understand what she said in a breathy tone, and she would repeat it in her native Bronx voice.
Ann, on the other hand, wanted to be a serious actress, which was her goal in life. Standing at four-foot-ten with a face that only a mother could love, she cut a shapely figure with a tiny waist. Her ass on the other hand, was enormous, and would often leave the stage five minutes after she did, but it was a spectacular ass. We joked that it had its own dressing room.
When Iris and I were not on stage we would hang out in the costume shop and try things on. Rumor had it that the costume shop was haunted, along with the theatre. It was a converted old firehouse and the closet in the costume shop led to a tower. There was a metal ladder attached to the inside of the closet that went up to the roof. It would slightly bang against the wall during a windy day. If we listened closely we could hear the ghosts of dead fireman calling to us, or at least that’s what we thought. One game we played in the costume shop while a show was going on was to go into the closet with a costume in hand, turn out the lights, and try to put it on. We never made it. We were always sure that there was someone was in the closet with us, so we would end up scrambling to get out.
Iris had a roommate named Pam. Pam looked very much like Pam Greer in her Afro phase and she was always listening to exotic records. One album cover that we sneaked a look at showed a totally naked effeminate guy. The title of the album was Prince, but we thought Prince would be better titled Princess. Pam would tell us to shut the fuck up whenever we talked about Prince.
An apartment opened up downstairs from Pam and Iris, and Ann moved in. Everything was great until Ann took out a restraining order against Iris because she believed that Iris was stalking her. I knew that Iris was completely consumed with Ann, but didn’t know that many times Iris would climb down the fire escape and sneak into Ann’s house when she wasn’t around. One night I spent the night at Iris and Pam’s apartment. We tied a glove to a broom handle, lowered it down to Ann’s window, and tapped on her window. Iris told me that she wanted to scare Ann. Thinking that Iris was breaking into her house, Ann called the Albany police. Five minutes later, just as I was pretending to be Linda Blair on Iris’ bed, the police arrived. I was bouncing myself into the air, pretending I was possessed, when the bell rang. Iris began to panic when the police announced through the intercom that they were here. Iris looked at me and I quickly told her to take off her clothes. I followed suit, stripped my clothes off, messed up our hair, pulled the sheets from the bed and wrapped them around ourselves. I told her to tell them we were having sex and that was the noise that Ann had heard.
Ann screamed “He’s gay!” when she overheard Iris’ excuse for the noise. “And you’re crazy!” Iris screamed down the stairs. The cops clearly didn’t want to get involved, told us to keep the noise down and returned to their patrol car. From there they drove to the top of the hill where they had a direct view into the front window of Iris’ apartment. We came up with an idea as we watched them with the lights off. I stepped in front of the window and dropped my sheet, and then Iris came to meet me and stand naked in the window with me. Believing our story, the cops quickly drove off.
Ann was a good friend, but I also enjoyed torturing her a little because she was always so dramatic with every story. I introduced her to Jack and Frankie and she became part of our little group.
The Devil You Know Part 8
One night I go to get David from work and am told by the bartender that everyone is upstairs at Jack’s place. I climb the back staircase and knock on the door. No one answers, but I can hear people inside. I push the door open and step in. The sounds are coming from the living room. As I turn the corner I see Frankie wearing an S.S. uniform and Ann chained naked to a wall. Frankie is beating her with a riding crop. When Frankie sees me, she holds out the riding crop and asks if I want a turn.
I am completely shocked by what I see as I slowly walk into the room. Jack is sitting totally naked in a chair. His legs are crossed, a pipe hangs out of the side of his mouth, and he has a devilish glint in his eyes. David is also sitting in a chair, but has nothing more on than a pair of underpants.
I feel like Rosemary from Rosemary’s Baby, when she enters the witches’ party and confirms that her baby has been fathered by the Devil. I don’t want anyone to talk to me. It’s a lot to take in.
“Hi Ann,” I say, pretending she has all her clothes on as I walk around her. Frankie still has the crop extended in her hand towards me. “No thanks,” I tell her, and at just that moment Mark walks into the room in a harness. “What the hell is going on in here?” my brain asks. I don’t even know how to process this and I decide that the best way is to excuse myself and get out of here.
Jack stands up. His little belly covers his penis. I realize that I just glanced down at it, so I quickly switch my eyes upward and notice that his handlebar moustache is curled up on each side. He still has that twinkle in his eye and the smoke from his pipe encircles his head like a bow. I move my eyes to the table by Jack and see a pile of a white substance that I know is cocaine. It is piled high on a mirror with additional lines and a straw separated off to one side of the mirror. A smile crosses David’s face and Jack takes a step towards me. This is a little too much to put together in my brain and I take a step backwards from this little group. For a brief moment the thought of staying crosses my mind, but I am not comfortable and need time to think on it. I do what I do best when confronted with a situation that makes me uncomfortable: I run. I just turn around, take a step past Mark in his harness, Frankie in her S.S. uniform, Ann chained to the wall, and hit the stairs running.
I don’t stop until I make my way back to Jay Street and enter my apartment. It is exactly how I left it and Bill M. still hasn’t returned. We haven’t heard anything in a couple of weeks about his progress. David and I are supposed to officially move in together and I have begun the packing. I want to give Bill M. plenty of time to find a new roommate before I leave, but we haven’t even had that conversation. I don’t want to visit him in the psych ward to tell him my plans.
It’s hours later when David appears at my apartment. He wants to apologize for freaking me out. Everyone is sorry that I wasn’t told or asked in advance, but Jack and Frankie want me to come back later for a drink. I tell him that I will think about it, but I know I will go back. I don’t return that night, but several days later I do. Jack teases me about how I ran out and how if I stayed he would be gentle. Frankie comes downstairs and sits at my side while David stands behind me. We form a twisted, bizarre little family who at this moment need to be in each others’ lives.
It’s weird when I see Ann, but she just shrugs and says, “A moment in time.” Soon David is over at The Gemini Jazz Café on a nightly and most of the day basis. He will come home, and five minutes later it’s either Jack or Frankie who needs something and David is back there. When Frankie calls because Jack has punched, kicked, or slapped her when he’s drunk, David is there to hear Jack apologize for doing it. I start to see a slide in David’s behavior. He is constantly on beck and call for Jack. I believe that he cares deeply for both of them. He is also there to protect Frankie and has tried again and again to talk her out of staying. How do you get someone to leave who won’t?
Five of the six weeks at CDPC are almost up for Bill M. when I walk up the block to go to work at The Gemini Jazz Café and as I get closer the smell of burning wood fills my nostrils. Smoke hangs in the air and then I realize that there is no building left on the corner of Dove and Madison. Over the next three hours I learn that The Gemini Jazz Café has been burned down by a fire that started in two places, and that the owners have left for somewhere via boat.
The Devil You Know Part 9
It would be twenty years before I learned the truth about what really happened to The Gemini Jazz Café. Two days after the fire was extinguished, the insurance company refused to pay for a couple of reasons: first, the fire had started in two places and they couldn’t determine what the accelerant was, and the second reason had something to do with the smoke and fire alarms. Rumors circled throughout the community and the City of Albany, which is how we got our news.
No one knew for sure what had happened and David had gone out of town for two days for some emergency. The staff of The Gemini Jazz Café, had not been paid in about two weeks and I had officially started to work there. Jack, with pipe in hand, had given me a piece of advice, and so I’d told the owner of Balloon-Age to go fuck herself.
Jack had heard me talking about how I was being booked repeatedly to do nothing but strip with a balloon delivery. “Seriously,” I’d told him, “Even I wouldn’t have hired me as a stripper for bachelorette parties.” Clearly when I showed up to do a strip, I was a skinny, scrawny, extremely-gay kid who put his all into it. The problem was that I was a nervous wreck and couldn’t wait for it to be over.
The only good news that came out of all this was that I had never needed to produce my nonexistent driver’s license for the owner of Balloon-Age. But the bad news was that I had bills to pay and no money. During the next week Jack and Frankie were arrested on their boat in Florida and allegedly maintained that they had nothing to do with the fire. There was no way that anyone was getting paid.
Unbeknownst to me, Bill M. would soon be on his way home from the hospital. I was screwed and I needed a plan, so the next day, I went to the Art Department of the State University of New York at Albany and applied for work as a nude model for advanced drawing classes. I was easily accepted and told I could begin that very day.
No one tells me what to do or how to do it, so I wing it. I’m wearing a tiny robe with nothing on underneath. At the front of the room is a little stage surrounded by chairs. Students are already sitting there with blank paper on their easels as I spot the teacher. She smiles and motions me to the stage.
I turn my back to the students, drop my robe, and pose without moving for about fifteen minutes. After the third fifteen-minute pose, the teacher comes over and kindly asks if I wouldn’t mind facing front for “at least one” of my poses. We negotiate for about five minutes and I get to sit in a folding chair if I will face front.
With my legs crossed, posing on a folding chair, I begin to think. This is money and I need it. This is money and it will pay bills and get me things that I need. Soon I begin to ask around about other jobs and look in the help-wanted ads at the back of the newspaper. I walk up and down Lark Street looking for a job.
One day I walk into a gay card store located in a basement building and ask if they know of any jobs. From behind a small row of poppers, the desk clerk tells me that I should meet his friend, a photographer named Joe Romeo.
The Devil You Know Part 10
Joe Romeo had a shop on Lark Street where he sold knickknacks. He lived above his shop and could access his home through a back door. I had a 2:00 p.m. meeting with him and dressed as nicely as I could. I had been told that he was looking for models for a book he was putting together.
Joe answered the door on the first ring. He was handsome with dark Italian looks and a little white tank peeking out through his cut-up short-sleeved flannel shirt. His arms were strong looking and he flexed a muscle as he placed his hand on the door frame. He was impeccably groomed with a little ’70s porn moustache and twinkling blue eyes with just a hint of mischief. He was wearing tight blue jeans with black work boots and had a body that clearly lived at the gym. He smiled, cocked his head, put out his hand and said, “Geoff, You’re much more handsome than I thought you would be.” His eyes twinkled and a smile crossed his face. He was charming and I could tell that I was not the first one for whom he had turned on his charm.
Joe motioned for me to follow him into his house. “Can I get you something to drink?” he asked, holding the door open for me. “Just water,” I responded. Joe pointed to one of the light brown leather couches that were separated by a coffee table. “Of course,” he said, walking into what I was sure was the kitchen.
Quickly looking around the room, I saw frames filled with pictures of muscle men. They decorated the walls, while more pictures sat on bookshelves, in piles on the coffee table, and on the sideboard. It was dark in his apartment. The curtains were drawn over the windows but I could see the light peeking through the sides. The furniture was early Art Deco. A full ashtray sat on the coffee table, its ashes spilling over the side and lightly dusting the table top.
Joe walked back into the room, placed the glass of water on a coaster in front of me, and pulled out a cigarette. He lit up while sitting down. “Do you know what I do?” he asked, his eyes showing that mischievous twinkle.
“You are a photographer and you’re looking for models for a book that you’re making?” I responded, reaching for the water. It was suddenly hot in here. “I am,” he said reaching under the coffee table for something. He fumbled for a moment, then pulled out several photo albums of varying thicknesses and placed them on the table. He opened the first book and slid it towards me. The pictures in the album were all soft porn and each of the models had something over their privates: a hat here, a drape there. “I shoot for various magazines and you would look great in their pages,” Joe said, pushing another photo album in front of me. Each new album started to show more skin and less soft porn.
I pulled a cigarette out of my pack and lit up; it was getting hotter in here! I took another sip of water and said, “Do you think so?” “Be cool,” I told myself. I was learning to work the game as well; let’s hear where this offer was going. “Can I get you a drink?” Joe asked, leaning forward on the couch. “I’m fine with water,” I said, still thumbing through the books.
“I would like to shoot you in your own setting,” Joe said, suddenly getting back to business, “The pay is good and it’s a one day shoot. Can you stand up for me?” he asked, dragging on his cigarette. I placed the book I was looking at on the coffee table and stood up slowly. “How tall are you?” he asked, looking me up and down. “Six feet,” I responded. “Can you take your clothes off for me?” Joe asked, waving his hand as if to make my clothes disappear. “I’m sorry?” I asked again. “Can you take your clothes off?” he said, waving his hand again. For some reason I hadn’t thought this would be part of it. “Sure, sure,” I said, putting out my cigarette while trying not to seem nervous. Joe leaned back on the couch and looked at me. I stepped on the back of my shoes and slipped one foot out at a time, then reached down and took off my socks.
I could feel the sweat forming on the back of my neck as I reached down and grabbed the bottom of my shirt. I pulled it up over my head in one quick jerk and threw it, still turned inside out, onto the couch. Joe smiled and motioned with his chin for me to remove my pants.
So I grab my belt buckle and yank it back. The top of my pants slide to my knees. Bending over, I push them down to my ankles. Joe pauses for a moment as I step out of my pants. I look at him and he motions again with his chin. “Your underpants as well,” he says through whispered breath. I turn and face the couch with my back to him. My stomach starts to lurch; this doesn’t feel right at all. “Your underpants as well,” he says again, a little louder this time.
I hook my thumbs into the front of my waistband, slide my briefs down to the floor and step out of them. “Turn around,” he whispers. I stand frozen. “Turn around,” he whispers again. I swallow hard and slowly began to turn towards him. “Nice, nice,” he says in that whispery tone. I stand facing him with my arms at my sides; I never look into his eyes. I’m not really here. “Now … I … need … you … to … get … an … erection,” he says, slowly pausing on each word. I continue to look at the ceiling.
The Devil You Know Part 11
The shoot took place three days after my meeting with Joe Romeo. “Last chance to back out,” Joe said as I opened the door to the apartment I shared with Bill M. Joe had a camera, a bag and one set of lights. The photos started in the kitchen, I was asked to remove my clothes and sit on the table, sit in the chair, look out the window, glance up, reach for the cabinet, move to the bedroom, lay on the bed face up, face down, smile and to stop smiling.
David was there the whole time just out of the shot and the whole thing was very clinical there was nothing sexual about it. I had left my body and soul behind I was floating far above it all just waiting to get paid. Joe had me stand naked outside, sit in the lawn chair, and to lift my coffee “just right.” I could see Tommy standing in the upper window looking down trying to figure out if I was really standing naked in the backyard.“Smile, don’t smile and lean back, look at my eyes,” Joe said as he laid in the dirt on the patio aiming the camera at me.
The whole thing was done in two hours, I signed a release and he was gone. David made dinner for me and in the next couple of days began to brag that I had posed naked for photos and that I was the hottest boyfriend in the world. A month later Joe would sell the pictures to Blueboy and Rump Magazine and people would buy these issues and show me copies of myself naked. Then Rump did a “Best of Rump Magazine,” where pictures of my butt appeared. I was honored.
After dinner, David and I had packed my room and everything in the apartment that belonged to me, we put it in boxes that sat everywhere stacked on top of each other. My goal was to be long gone before Bill M. got home from the hospital. I told Roy and Tommy about my plan to leave before Bill M. got back and I had worked out money with Roy to give a two week buffer of money to Bill M. That’s why I did the pictures, so I could just go and live somewhere else, somewhere safe, somewhere with David.
Rumor had it that Bill M. was due back any day and no one but Roy had spoken to Bill M’s mom and he had passed the word on to me. Allegedly, Bill M. was on a much stronger prescription than he was on when he lived here and the voices have been quieted. I told Roy that I couldn’t live with Bill M. anymore.
David and I put our heads together. I still needed to find a job other than my modeling for art students, that job only paid $30.00 an hour. I put the word out to friends and in two days I began the once weekly job of cleaning a house of three girls enrolled at SUNY Albany. The money was $40.00 for the job and I took it in the hopes of getting more clients.
I was greeted at the door by a brown hair girl holding a phone receiver cradled to her ear. “Yeah?” she said cupping the phone to her shoulder so the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t hear what was going on. I introduced myself and was ushered in.
The cord of the phone was stretched from the kitchen, into the hallway and all the way to the front door. Not talking to me she began to mime what she wanted me to do, never stopping in her conversation to who I believe was her mother.
Looking around, I was shocked at how disgusting college students can be. Garbage was everywhere as were clothes and the kitchen seemed to be just a staging station to show off all the dirty pots and pans they had in the house.
The girls had a cat that eyed me from the counter. I could smell that had a litter box in need of a changing. On the kitchen floor in the corner sat the litter box. The cat had given up using the litter inside the box and started using the floor around the litter box to poop and pee. I saw the girls the whole time I was cleaning; they were stationed on the living room couch watching General Hospital or on the phone in the kitchen begging their parents for more money to pay a cleaning person.
Cleaning was fun and gave my mind something to do. I wore my Walkman and listened to The Pretenders. The only downside was at the end when I had to walk all three around the house and show them what I did while cleaning. The girls would run their fingers over all the surfaces and get down on their knees to make sure I had cleaned everywhere. “Hmmmmmm” said the girl with Brown hair who answered the door, holding a dusty finger in my face that she had just pulled from behind the dresser.
I was paid $40.00 in singles, fives and a ten; it took an extra thirty minutes for them to find the money they owed me. “Starting next week,” one of the girls announced to me as I was leaving, we will pay you every two weeks and then she started to close the door, I stopped and looked at the girl. “Is there anything else?” she said cupping her hand over the phone receiver just as her roommate had to talk to me. I shook my head “no” and headed down the walk.
The Devil You Know Part 12
I head back to David’s house, the official move in will happen tomorrow, everything is packed and ready to go. I just don’t want to think about everything that needs to get taken care of by then, I need a night off. David has made an amazing dinner but the table is set for three places. Anne is in the living room watching Entertainment Tonight, the volume is turned up so loud that Anne doesn’t hear me when I say hello or at least she doesn’t acknowledge me.
David comes out of the kitchen and places a water pitcher on the table; I lean in to kiss him. “How was cleaning?” he asks. “Ok, I guess, its money” I say. David looks in the living room and then leans in and tells me that Anne will be joining us for dinner tonight. Recently, every meal has been with David’s aging roommate Anne. It is more than clear that she loves David and thinks of herself as more than just a roommate. David asks me to get Anne to the table, so I walk into the living room and tell her that dinner is ready; she pushes herself off the couch and shuts off the television. She says nothing to me as if I didn’t just speak.
Her feelings towards me are clear as she shakes her head and clucks whenever I open my mouth. She never comments about anything I say but always asks when I will be going back to my own apartment. David reminds her that I will be moving in tomorrow to live with them. Anne immediately clucks and shakes her head looking down at her plate. Clearly she has a good thing going and I am ruining it by being there. She can pretend she’s Mrs. David but not when I am right in front of her reminding her that she’s not. David affectionately calls her Annie.
David’s ex-boyfriend Randy lived with David and Anne, until six months ago when Randy broke up with David. I think that it destroyed him and Anne had to talk him down off a cliff. She doesn’t want that to happen again, at least that’s what David tells me, is her reason for not liking me. Randy still lives in Albany several blocks away and is working on getting a college degree in acting. So far I have never met Randy; he’s just a voice on the phone to me. When he calls, David walks into the music room and cuddles up with the phone, he is still trying to make sense of what happened between them.
David’s house has an open door policy for friends and during the day and people just hang out there. Anne locks her door just to be “on the safe side,” and forbids anyone to go into her room ever. Anne likes to read movie magazines, she likes to knit and watch Entertainment Tonight and Wheel of Fortune at full volume, she has no friends and never goes anywhere except to work. Dinner is fine and when it’s done, Anne goes back to sitting on the couch; she will stay there for hours watching television at a deafening level. I sit next to her on the couch as she is trying to solve the puzzle on Wheel of Fortune. Making small talk I ask her what she does for work and she responds, “This and that.” If I don’t talk to her, she won’t talk to me but she will tell David everything that I do when she’s around.
David signals me to join him and I follow him to the back porch to hang out. All I have to do the next day is pose for some art classes and meet David at my apartment on Jay Street around 3pm to move out. We spend the rest of this evening drinking and hanging out. I fall asleep in his arms.
The next day after I finish posing for art class I take the bus back downtown from SUNY to meet David. David’s car is sitting out in front of my apartment as I round the corner I can see him listening to the radio and smoking a cigarette. David see’s me and waves as I approach the car. He turns off the radio and opens the car door. “Ready?” he asks me. “As ready as I will ever be,” I respond.
We walk up the walkway and step under the stairs. I don’t see Roy or Tommy’s truck so I figure that they are not home yet. I pull my house key out and put it into the lock. For some reason my key won’t go in so I try it again. It still doesn’t work no matter what I do so David tries it. “Hey!” David yells after about ten minutes “It looks as if this lock has been changed.”
The Devil You know Part 13
“That’s impossible!” I say to David grabbing back my keys. “Who would have changed this lock?” I try to put my key in the lock again and there is no way that it is going to work, it’s clearly a new lock. It’s then that I notice a few wood shavings around the lock and near the bottom of the door. “This lock is brand new and was recently installed!” I scream as David walks over and peeks into to the window. “I think someone is in there,” he says holding his hands to either side of his eyes to block out the light. I cup the window as well and look in, I can’t see anyone in there but it looks as if things have been moved around. “Mother Fucker!” I scream and walk over to the front door and begin pushing the doorbell. I can hear it ringing in the house.
“You think that Bill M. got home early?” David asks still trying to see in the window. “Mother Fucker!” I scream again and begin pounding to the door with the hand that’s not ringing the bell. “I can see someone moving in there,” David yells at me and I begin to knock louder and then start kicking the door.
“Are Tommy and Roy home upstairs?” David asks stepping back to look up at the front of the house. He doesn’t have to ask twice before I bolt up the front steps to their house and begin ringing their doorbell. There is no answer and clearly Tommy and Roy are not home.
I stomp back down their steps and onto the sidewalk where I tell David to help me start searching for a pay phone. I find one half a block away, I drop in the change I have in my pocket and dial the police department. After explaining what happened the police tell me that “They are sending officers to my house to respond to my call.”
David and I run back to the house and sit on the front steps waiting for the police to arrive. After about ten minutes a squad car slowly crawls up the block. I jump off the steps and run into the street to flag them down.
The cops look at me like I’m crazy as I explain the whole story about living with Bill M. and how he was just in the CDPC (Capital District Psychiatric Center) and how it seems he got home earlier than planned. Well, to be honest I haven’t let them get out of the car before I start my story. The two officers just keep looking at each other while I talk. “Have you tried knocking?” one of the cops asks. “I have tried knocking, banging and ringing,” I respond feeling like I am about to get hysterical. The cop who asks me if I rang the bell climbs out of the car and heads up the walk towards the house. He begins to ring the bell “Albany Police Department,” he yells through the closed door. I am standing right behind him “I think he’s in there and he’s hiding.”I say over his shoulder. He shoots me a look and I run back to look into the window.
“Can you prove that you live here?” the second cop who is standing by the car yells out to me. “Yes, that’s all my stuff in there!” I scream back at him. “Can you prove it’s your stuff and your house?” “Do you have a lease with you? “the cop at the car yells to me. I find that this line of questioning is insane and before I can shut my mouth I tell him so.
“Break down the door!” I command the cop pointing at the door. “Can’t until you prove that you live here,” the officer by the car yells out to me. David quickly grabs my elbow and pulls me back as I take a step towards the officer, I am not thinking and this is going to get bad unless I can calm down. “Please, break down the door!” I gently command this time, again pointing at the door. “Nothing we can do until you can prove it.” The cop by the car says while he opens the driver side door of the car. I quickly explain that my landlords live upstairs and if the cops can just wait to get home they will vouch for me.
The cop who was ringing the bell begins to walk back to the car shaking his head. “If this is a lovers spat, you two love birds will have to work this out before you call us again.” He says pausing before swinging his legs into driver’s side of the car. “Love birds?” I yell as the cop car slowly crawls away from the curb before heading down the block.
“Let’s go to my house and we can deal with this in the morning,” David says catching my arm.
I am up early and David tells me to calm down. At 9am David drives the Pontiac to my Jay Street apartment. I have not been able to sleep all night knowing that I will have to deal with this shit today. I haven’t seen Bill M. since he entered the hospital and I was hoping that I could avoid him and this situation. David pulls up to the curb and I quickly hop out of the car and run up the sidewalk. David shuts the car off and follows me, by the time he gets to me I am furiously ringing the door bell and alternately banging on the door. David pauses and starts looking in through the front window. “I can see Bill M. in there and he’s heading to the door.”
The Devil You Know Part 14
“Hold your horses, I’m coming!” Bill M. screams from somewhere inside the apartment. Even though he tells me he was on his way, I continue to ring the bell and kick at the door. “Jesus Christ you’re going to kick it in!” Bill M. screams now directly on the other side of the door from me. There is a pause and then Bill M. speaks again, this time in a sing/song voice. “Who is it?” he chirps. “You know who it is!” I scream back at him. “Yeah, you know who it is now open the door!” David, whose frustration level is climbing, yells from behind me. “Are you selling something?” Bill M. says looking through the side window directly at us. “No, but I’m going to punch you in the fucking head the minute you open this door!” I scream in Bill M’s face “Access denied!” Bill M. says turning on his heel.
David moves me to the side and takes over the job of kicking the door and the ringing of the bell. After about 15 minutes Bill M. returns to the side of the door and looks through the glass at us. “If you calm down, I will open the door.” Bill M. says “Also you need to promise that you won’t punch in my head once I open the door!” Bill M. is switching his gaze between David and me. “I promise.” I say raising my hand. “Now swear.” Bill M. responds, a smile crossing his face. “Little Pig, I am about to burn down your god damned house any minute,” I say wanting to reach through the glass and choke him. “God, you have no sense of humor.” Bill M. says as he unlocks the door.
The minute the door is opened; I push past Bill M. and step into the living room. David, who was a few steps behind me, closes the front door. Bill M. saunters into the living room, extends one hand and leans against the wall. The living room is spotless; there is only the couch and television sitting there. “Where are my boxes?” I say looking around.
Bill M. lifts his free hand and looks at his finger nails saying nothing. I step away from him and walk into the kitchen. “Where are my mother fucking boxes?” I scream. The kitchen is just as clean and stark as the living room. I take the step up into my room, which is also empty, no boxes, no bed, no nothing.
“Oh, I paid to have the garbage taken away.” Bill M. casually says and returns to looking at his fingernails.
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” I scream taking a step towards him. “No, I am in a clear and stable mind now since I got back from my vacation.” Bill M. responds as he lifts his eyes to meet mine. David quickly steps in behind me and grabs my arm. David knows that I am about to punch the fuck out of Bill M. David whispers “It’s not worth it.”
“I’m calling the police and….”I start to say and Bill M. cuts me off “And telling them what?” Bill M’s face has now completely changed and the mask of sanity he uses to fool everyone has melted away. It is only a moment in time but it is the second time in my life that I get to see the real Bill M., the first time was when he had tried to kill me with a shovel. As soon as it appears it also disappears.
“Call the police,” Bill M. goes on “And explain how you are not on the lease and how you already moved out?” Bill M. takes one step closer to me, his nose just inches from my face. “I gave you money for next month,” I stammer. “Do you have a receipt that shows you gave it to me?” The little voice in my head tells me it is time to punch the fuck out of him.
David, who is just in as much shock as I am must have heard that little voice, because he steps forward and pins my arms to my side. “You crazy mother fucker!” I scream at Bill M. who slowly walks backwards away from me. “Blah, blah, blah,” he says making his hand mouth the words as he says them.
It was a moment in time when I am about to enter a black hole and not climb out. I am so angry that somewhere my brain flexes and the room disappears in front of me. It is at that moment that I realize I have nothing, no clothes, no books, no shoes, no underwear, no nothing. He took everything that I owned and had it thrown away, it is clear that it was planned and he knew he could get away with it.
Suddenly my brain flexes again and I am calmer than I have ever been in my life. I am scared by this new side of me that decides to take over. Bill M. sees the change in me as well and the fight goes out of his eyes. David releases me from his grip. “This is a long way from being over,” I calmly say and take a step back from Bill M.
Bill M. raises his hand again and says “Blah, blah, blah.”
The Devil You Know Part 15
For the next three or four days, David and I reach out to Tommy and Roy. They can’t believe what has happened, but make it clear that they really don’t want to get involved. In reality they are just the landlords and think the dispute should be handled between Bill M. and myself. Roy tells me that he will vouch for me if this ever goes to court, but thinks that it is best to just walk away and forget it. I wondered if Bill M. has something that he is holding over their heads.
The biggest problem is that I have no money and can’t afford a lawyer to take Bill M. to court. I have no receipts for any of the rent or utilities, so it would boil down to my word against his. David and I even try to get help from the Albany Police department who tell us the same thing “Let it go.” So we do.
I only have the clothes on my back that I had been wearing; everything else is gone. The Nine poster that Sue and I took in New York City is gone as well. I have nothing and I mean nothing. David lets me wear whatever I can find in his closest. The problem is that David is bigger than me; I have a hard time finding anything that fits. David has an idea to take me clothes shopping but I don’t have the budget to buy anything new, so we make a trip to The Salvation Army.
I break down into tears several times while going through the racks and try to hide it from David. He pretends not to notice but asks me if “I am ok?” There are several people who are shopping in there because it is cool to buy Vintage. The “Punk Scene” in Albany is huge and the Salvation Army is the place to go to find clothes for it. We end up getting several bags of clothes and shoes for about $36.00. It is pretty apparent that I bought the clothes to survive and not for the style, even though I was starting to adopt the “Punk Look” myself.
In the weeks that follow I get a job working the counter at The Half Moon Café. The Half Moon Café is a health food restaurant located at the bottom of the hill on Madison Avenue. The main room on the ground floor is split into two rooms with a back patio that has a great screen door and a picnic table.
In the main room is where we prepare the food and serve the customers. The second room has several tables and nightly serves a different function. One night the room is for poetry readings, the next night is for new bands, the third night serves as a Lesbian AA meeting place. Every day the most eclectic people will walk through the door and want either a Kefir shake or a tofu stir fry. It is a CO-OP restaurant so it is owned by several of the people who work in the restaurant.
There is a hippie dippy vibe going from the main owners but almost everyone working there has giant hair, piercings, tattoos and smoke like chimneys. There are three main owners, Tommy, Jim and Jody. Tommy loves to talk about the value of having a compost shed in his backyard. It is also clear that he drives Jim and Jody nuts and tends to do things without passing it by them. In the beginning I work only three shifts but pick up anything I can get my hands on.
One of the girls who works there and I start to work every shift together and find that we enjoy each other’s company. She is about 4’10, her hair is orange and short in the front and long in the back. People scream out “Hey Cyndi Lauper,” wherever she goes. Her name is Kim and every day she wears something that has a leopard skin print, tight pants and lots of Madonna bracelets. We become fast friends and share the fact that health food grosses us out, so when we work together one of us runs out to Big Dom’s subs and buys a roast beef sandwich that we hide and eat under the counter.
One day on my way down Lark Street, I notice that hanging in the window of an antique clothing store are two smoking jackets. I stop and take a closer look. I realize that these are mine; they had been given to me as a gift from The Albany Civic Theatre when I was done with Heaven Can Wait. They were in the apartment that Bill M. said he threw out.
I don’t even hesitate a moment and walk into the store.
The Devil You Know Part 16
A bell tinkles as the door swings closed behind me. At the counter is a punky looking boy with jet black hair and a black and white striped t-shirt. He is reading the newspaper spread open in front of him. He doesn’t respond or look up to the sound of the bell but yells out, “Let me know if you need help with something.”
The store has an overpowering smell of antique and used clothing. I walk past a rolling rack of old furs and hats and make a beeline for the guy at the counter. “Hello,” I say, standing directly in front of him. Quickly I blurt out, “Do you buy antique clothing or do people donate the clothes to you?” He places his finger on the paper to hold his place in the story he is reading and looks up. “You got something to sell?” he asks, raising one eyebrow. “No, but I’m interested in the smoking jackets in the front window.” “Yeah, they’re nice, aren’t they?” he says, returning to his place in the paper.
“Where did you get them?” I ask. His finger returns to the paper and he looks up. “Dunno,” he says and goes back to his reading. “Are you the manager?” I ask. His finger returns to the paper and he looks up again, this time clearly annoyed. “Nope,” he says, returning to his reading. “Will the manager be here soon?” I ask. This time he doesn’t look up. “Is there something you need help with?” he asks. I blurt out my whole story.
“My roommate and I went our separate ways and he told me that he threw out all my clothes and now I see my smoking jackets hanging in your window.” He now pauses and looks up at me. “Do you have a receipt that says they are yours?” “I do not,” I respond. He sighs, clearly over my line of questioning. “Well, the manager will be here in about three hours, you can stop back in then. I have to warn you though, she will ask you the same question.” It is clear that I am chasing my own tail and I need to let it go.
“Okay, thanks,” I say. Turning on my heel, I head towards the door. “Uh-huh,” is his response. “Let it go,” I say to myself as I walk back out onto the street, “Let it go.” The bell tingles as the door shuts behind me.
Time with David passes and it’s clear that Anne and I have nothing but contempt for each other. She constantly goes out of her way to tell David how much she doesn’t like me and doesn’t trust me. After awhile it begins to add pressure and stress to our relationship. David and I discuss my moving out and finding a new apartment. That way we can work on us. David never seems to be able to tell me why Anne is so important to him. She brings nothing to the table that I can see. David lost his mother as a child and that’s the only concrete thing I can get out of him when we’re talking about Anne. My feeling is that Anne is a big girl and she should move out.
Kim at The Half Moon Café tells me that I should live with her. Her apartment has six bedrooms, a full kitchen, full bath, dining room, and a living room. She and I can share her room, she says, it’s big enough for two. So after work, I decide to stop by and take a look.
The apartment is located half way up the block on Dana Avenue and close to Lark Street. It is a two-floor house. Kim and her roommates have the top floor and someone named Ingrid owns the bottom floor with her three children. Kim’s apartment is huge but she asks me to be quiet because her roommates are all sleeping. “They work at The 8 Balls Saloon on Western Avenue.”
8 Balls, as it is affectionately known, is a seedy gay bar where you can find anything that you might need. An evil drag queen named Miss Kenny holds court at the door and looks at IDs. If you are cute and flatter her, you’re in. If you’re not, or you piss her off, then God help you. I once saw a biker hit Miss Kenny in the nose with a beer bottle, and Miss Kenny–face covered in blood–picked up anything she could find to smash over his head after she knocked him out with a punch to the face. It took five men to pull her off after the guy was clearly out cold.
Kim gives me a whole tour of the house and I love it. I ask to use the bathroom and I lock the door behind me. I look in the mirror and as I splash water on my face, a cockroach brazenly walks out of the medicine cabinet, then another and another. I look around the bathroom and see a couple more cockroaches hanging out on the ceiling. I quickly leave the bathroom and find Kim in the kitchen making a grilled cheese. The smell of the melting cheese seems to bring a couple of cockroaches onto the counter at first.
Kim takes the spatula and swats at them. They scatter and then return. “These fuckers are brazen,” Kim says, swatting at them again. They run and return and I spot a couple more running on the ceiling. “Uh, we’ve got a roach problem,” Kim says, as she places her sandwich on a plate and heads for the fridge. Several cockroaches make a run for the sandwich on the counter but after grabbing a soda, Kim beats them to it.
The Devil You Know Part 17
David and I discuss the move to Kim’s and think that it is a great idea. Anne is over the moon that I am leaving that she sarcastically says and waves “Bye Bye” to me, when I tell her. I restrain myself from punching her in the head and actually count to ten out loud. David and I have a great relationship and agree that this should make it stronger. That night, Kim asks me to meet at 8 Balls at around 11pm because all her roommates will be there. This will be the first time that I get to meet them all at the same time.
8 Balls is located on Central Ave about 10 blocks up from Lark Street. The front of the club is as low key as you get. There is a painting of an 8 Ball on a sign. The glass on the front of the bar is black and you can’t seen into the bar, once inside, you can only see out. I grab the handle on the outside door and pull. Miss Kenny, a nine foot tall African American drag queen who looks like Tyra Banks, is wearing a tight tan catsuit with a pony tail pulled high on her head, is blocking the second doorway into the club with her body. She stops me and asks for id. It doesn’t matter that she sees me all the time and knows my name, he still asks for it. I pull my id out of my pocket and hand it to her. Miss Kenny pauses with my id in her hand, and then she clicks on her flashlight to get an even better look at my picture. “Oh girl, you are Kim’s new boyfriend, does she know that you are gay?” she says with a sneer. “I’m not Kim’s new boyfriend.” I say trying to retrieve my id that Miss Kenny is holding in my face. Miss Kenny quickly pulls her hand back “To each, their own,” she says and shoos me out of the doorway with the back of her hand.
As I enter the bar I can see that it is already packed at least three people deep around the bar. The bar is a big square that sits in the front and center of the room. I can barely see the heads of the bartenders as they work. The bouncer tonight is sitting on the inside of the bar near the window. He is a big fat guy who sits with an unlit cigar hanging out of his mouth, the place is packed and yet I can hear him snoring.
There are additional bar tables and stools lining each side of the club. Towards the back of the club and on the left hand side of the room is a glass enclosed DJ booth. The DJ Booth sits on a plexiglass dance floor that lights change with the beats of the music. The DJ tonight is the owner David, he barely looks up from his turntable. Directly across from the DJ Booth are two bathrooms neither one has a sign so they both get used for the Men’s room and to do various drugs. Someone is clearly smoking a joint somewhere.
Kim zips by me carrying a bucket of ice by the handle. She is so short that the bucket keeps hitting the floor, causing the ice to jump out of it. She hurries by me and purposely bumps me with her hip.
She pauses about three feet away from me and turns and smiles in my direction. ‘Are you ready?” she asks me. Tonight, Kim outlines her eyes in liquid mascara and pulls the line out as far as possible, giving that “cat look” to her eyes. Around her neck is a purple bandana that sits on top of her leopard print long sleeve shirt. Her pants are tight and black; she has slipped her pant legs into black boots that come up mid shin. Kim looks amazing. Her hair is short in the front and long in the back. The colors represented, are orange, black, white and purple.
She motions with her head for me to follow her up to the bar.