Thanks for visiting my blog. It is a sampler of my murder-memoir Boy Outa Brooklyn. The best way to enjoy it is to start at the first post and read chronologically. I hope you’ll find it both hilarious and horrifying.
I will also be posting about the best books, movies and songs about Brooklyn. And, sharing my practical and off-beat travel tips.
Even before the hit song by the Village People, everyone knew what went on at the YMCA. But, after a day walking around the streets of Manhattan and a night running around the moors of Scotland, I was too whipped to care. Plus, the “Y” was only minutes from the theater and Jersey wasn’t. So, I risked it. But, getting a room at the “Y” was not easy. It was a popular place for young Christian men to fellowship, evangelize and sodomize. The line at the check-in desk looked like a casting call for The Boys in the Band.
So, I counted my blessings whenever I could get a four-dollar room with the all-important private shower. I felt like a real swell as I piled all the furniture against the door to dissuade unwanted visitors and watched Johnny Carson in glorious Black & White. For two bucks, I could get a private room but with a gang shower down the hall. One catch. There were nightly gangbangs in the gang shower. So, on two-buck nights, I’d wait until 4 AM when the orgy had finished then tiptoe down the hall and take a shower – fully clothed. For a buck, the “Y” supplied a bunk bed and a butt-plug.
The cast of Macbeth drank in an 8th avenue dive called the Chelsea Bar, not to be confused with the bar of the same name in the nearby Chelsea Hotel where celebrities went to OD on heroin. No, our Chelsea Bar was a beer & shot joint that catered to longshoremen and merchant seamen. We liked the Chelsea because the beer was cheap and the ambiance earthy – our very own Mermaid Tavern. The toothless, one-thumbed bartender liked us because we bought a lot of his beer and caused no trouble. He was not the only person in the Chelsea missing a body part – all the regulars were minus a finger, arm, ear or eye. They were the guys who didn’t pay attention when the industrial safety film was shown.
Every so often a fight would break out at the bar between two lugs and the bartender would bring out his sawn-off baseball bat to restore order. He’d slam it on the bar a few times then brandish it above his head. Silence. Then there’d be a final shouted curse from one of the combatants followed by a sudden flood of tears and a flight to the men’s room. Eventually, it hit us. These were lovers’ spats. We were in the butchest gay bar in the world. And, I am talkin’ butch. These guys looked like the wrestling tag-team of Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard.
The Chelsea Bar is long gone along with all those toothless, tattooed, hard-drinkin’, hard-lovin’ men. Were they buried at sea? In Potter’s Field? Did they spend their last days in the “Home for Sissy Stevedores?” Or, did these old salts care for each other in their dotage? Care for each other through the nightmare of AIDS that was gaining on them and perhaps already a stowaway in their bodies?
That’s why in 1974 New York and with hopeful hearts,my acting group dared to move into a rat’s nest flanked by porn shops. The customers of those shops received blowjobs for five bucks in the alley behind our theater. Those blowjobs were administered by Black trannies who resembled New York Giants linebackers dressed in hot pants and halter-tops. Our actresses had it extra-tough getting to and from our new home. They had to maneuver through pickpockets, pill-poppers and pimps while enduring wolf-whistles from Elvis Presley look-a-like diesel-dikes. If the actresses skirted the well-lit but obnoxious 42nd Street, they were easy prey on the dark and un-policed 41st and 43rd Streets.
When we compared travel-tips, we discovered that we had independently stumbled onto the same survival strategy. To avoid being maimed, mugged or murdered, we acted nuts. The primal animal in us instinctively knew that predators didn’t eat sick prey. So, we acted sick. We walked down 42ndstreet talking to ourselves and to Jesus. We laughed hysterically at everything and at nothing. We cried out to the Mayor and the Martians. We limped. We played retarded. Under serious threat, we had cerebral palsy.
Carrie was a year dead by the time we discovered this survival ruse. It might have saved her life.
One night, Ray and Preacher take me to a notorious gay bar way west in Greenwich Village –The Toilet. (I ain’t makin’ this up – The Toilet!) The dress-style ranges from crotchless black-leather pants to crotchless black-leather pants with metal studs. And, the metal studs are on the penis, not the pants. While who knows what is going on in the back room, we are entertained out front by the floorshow. This consists of an acrobat pulling his upside-down body up a thick iron chain, link by link, with his anal sphincter muscles. Yes, this intrepid aerialist climbs up the chain with his asshole!
Time passed, medicine advanced and we forgot. We forgot what a scourge AIDS was, especially in show business, especially in New York. By the late 1980s, I was the only actor still alive from several casts I’d been in during the 1970s.
At the height of the AIDS panic, I dated a public health official. She told me plans were in place to quarantine the entire city of New York, if necessary. The authorities foresaw streets piled with corpses collected by robot-controlled plague-carts. “Bring out your dead.” They were that ascared.
I first heard of AIDS in 1979 – the dawn of the epidemic. I had moved to a Brooklyn brownstone. Ray, my gay landlord said, “Have you heard that all the guys in the Village are getting sick? They’re calling it the gay cancer.” I still see Ray sitting there, still see the terror in his eyes, still feel the terror that shot through me. We both knew that what he was describing will kill him and maybe me. We were both ascared.
Method Acting teachers are seen as gurus and they embrace this mantle: “I am the great Father Figure, Witch-Doctor, Shrink, the Font of All Wisdom, the Repository of All Knowledge, the Giver of Pleasure and Pain.” No surprise their schools become personality cults. No surprise these cults are especially attractive to young women who have little self-esteem and big “Daddy” issues. The Guru demands that the student emotes at all times. The student is not having a successful scene if the student is not having a nervous breakdown – even if the scene is from Mary Poppins. Simply put – “If you ain’t crying, you ain’t acting.”
One Guru held his entire class captive for two days because one student had not prepared a scene. Two days. No food. No phone calls. No talking. Limited toilet breaks. Very limited. Meanwhile, across town, a revered female Guru sent her students out to pick up strangers in bars and have sex with them – in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. And, people fought to get into these classes.