Desi Monster - Photographed by Michael Fazakerley by Walt Cassidy

 Michael Fazakerly  Desi Monster, 1991.

Michael Fazakerly

Desi Monster, 1991.

Michael Fazakerley’s work is currently on display at Stonewall National Museum - Wilton Manor through January 20, 2019.

This is a chance to see one of the most prolific archives documenting the Downtown Culture of New York City in the 80’s and 90’s.

We highly recommend that you take a trip to visit this exhibition.

The Hustle - My Cherry Lipped Angel by Walt Cassidy

 Photograph by Mr. Leonard  Donald - Boots & Saddle, c. 1990

Photograph by Mr. Leonard

Donald - Boots & Saddle, c. 1990

The Hustle - My Cherry Lipped Angel

During our first semester at School of Visual Arts, and while living at the Greystone Hotel on West 91st Street,  Ricky and I spent most of our time between four nightclubs...BUILDING, Limelight, Palladium and Pyramid.  There were many other events and venues that we explored, but those were our weekly spots.

Everything about the city was thrilling.  Each turn of the block was dripping with details and dynamics, things I had never seen or experienced before.  The way people dressed, spoke and carried themselves was so unique and distinctive.  The city felt renegade in it's immediacy and rawness. 

My friend Ivan taught me so much about New York and how to navigate it.  To give me an introduction to the streets and their layout, he walked me all the way from West 91st Street down to Battery Park, well over 100 blocks, and at NYC pace, which is about 10 times faster than normal walking.  Everything was faster in the city, and I realized quickly that I needed to stay on my toes.  

There was a protective etiquette that one maintained.  You had to keep your eyes open, but at the same time be careful not to stare at anyone.  A gaze that lasted too long in someone's direction, could be seen as a challenge, an invitation or an invasion of space.  All of these could provoke attention that you might regret soliciting. There was always the potential for danger, or at the very least, you could become the victim of someone's street hustle.  

If there is one thing that is paramount to New York City, it's the hustle.  It's the thing that draws people to the city, and also pushes them away.  If you don't find a way to ride it, manage it, or escape it, it can, without any hesitation, break you into pieces that can never be repaired.

 Photograph by SKID  Waltpaper and Kacy Pierce - Webster Hall, 1992.

Photograph by SKID

Waltpaper and Kacy Pierce - Webster Hall, 1992.

Back at the hotel dorm, we met a black bookish queen named Kacy Pierce from Chicago.  Ricky said we spotted him one night at Pyramid.  He ran out of the club when he saw us, fearing he might be spooked as a fellow queen .  As glaringly gay as miss thing was, she was still clinging to that closet door. 

Ricky, even though I had known him in high school, had also just come out of the closet.  He revealed it to me after developing a crush on some guy he met at one of the clubs.  I imagine every kid that comes to the city, shares that grace period where they shake off all their unwanted baggage, allowing themselves to fully indulge in their identity of choice.  I was no different, and as a gesture of my transformation, I changed my name to Waltpaper.

Upon request to SVA, the three of us moved into one dorm apartment together, citing that we were all gay and would feel safer and more comfortable being housed together.  The school luckily accommodated our wishes.

 Photograph by Linda Simpson  Waltpaper and Page - Limelight, 1991.

Photograph by Linda Simpson

Waltpaper and Page - Limelight, 1991.

Early in the game, we met Linda Simpson, an East Village drag queen who hosted the Saturday night party at BUILDING.  She was tied at the hip to this freaky trans girl, named Page, who looked like a white, bleached blonde Grace Jones, and was a total eccentric in all the best ways.  I later learned that Page came from a wealthy & well bred family in Connecticut.  Linda and Page were incredibly sweet and welcoming to us. 

I think Linda developed a little crush on Ricky, and as a result they became close friends.  We met so many people through the parties she hosted.  Her wit and work ethic came through in the organizing of events and the publishing her magazine, MY COMRADE.   I've always been inspired by DIY people who create things from the ground up.  It takes great courage to take an idea, cultivate it, and push it into the public sphere. 

MY COMRADE highlighted, with great satire, a range of talented personalities from the East Village, a popular and affordable neighborhood that was heavily occupied by artists and performers.  Her Wednesday night party at Pyramid, called Channel 69, was a hub of creativity, and we would stop by to see the show before heading to Disco 2000 at Limelight. 

Linda snapped a lot pictures at her parties, and would use them as a promotional tools.  If she took a picture of you, she'd make two copies, keep one for herself and then give you the other.  I managed to save a number of her photographs, which have now become iconic documents of that time period.  A few years ago she began showcasing them in a series of exhibitions, presentations and books under the banner "The Drag Explosion". 

 Photograph by Linda Simpson  Christopher Comp and Ricky Zia - BUILDING, 1991.

Photograph by Linda Simpson

Christopher Comp and Ricky Zia - BUILDING, 1991.

It was Linda who arranged for me to work at BUILDING doing painted illustrations for the VIP lounge, which led to me promoting and go-go dancing.  She also gave Ricky and I the task of organizing a social section for MY COMRADE.

Every week at Channel 69, she would have a different drag performer featured, and that was our first time seeing and meeting many of those queens, including Rupaul, Tabboo!, Floydd, Mistress Formika, Sister Dimension, Mona Foot, Aphrodite, Sweetie, Ebony Jet and Faux Pas.

Channel 69 also hosted some of the cutest boys in NYC.  Many of them were East Village guys that could be found around the scene, either tending bar or go-go dancing.  If a drag queen needed a sexy male companion in a photo shoot or to make an appearance in a show, it would often be one of these guys.  They didn't look like normal gay boys from the suburbs.  They had a sexy and swarthy cultural ambiguity that was quintessentially New York.

 Photograph by Mr. Leonard  Donald - Boots & Saddle, c. 1991

Photograph by Mr. Leonard

Donald - Boots & Saddle, c. 1991

At BUILDING one night, on the VIP balcony that overlooked the main dance floor, I met a young boy named Donald.  He was the most extraordinary looking human being I had ever come in contact with.  His bone structure reminded me of a pit bull.  His face was broad and similar to that of Lauren Bacall.

He had dark brown hair that was tightly curled and cut into a caesar, and eyes that looked like deep pools of black liquid.  His skin was pale and smooth, like porcelain.  And his lips...oh my god...those beautiful lips.  They were full, soft, and the color of cherries,

I was wearing a purple tutu that night, and feeling pretty cute with my antennae hair and big hoop earrings.  

We got to talking and he randomly mentioned that his urine was purple, like my tutu.   I couldn't believe that this guy was even talking to me, let alone flirting with me, and to top it off he had freaky colored urine?  My hormones were zooming around so fast in my body, that I could barely breathe.

He went on to explain that his urine was actually more of a deep red color, than purple.  I blushed with anticipation, paused, and then asked him to prove it.  I was hoping that by challenging him, I might get a chance to see more than his beautiful face.  Without hesitation, he happily obliged.

There was a large rubber garbage can nearby for empty drink cups and beer bottles.  He pulled out an empty cup, unzipped his pants, urinated into it, and was quick to show me the color, among other things.  Sure enough it was bright red, and by that time, so was I. 

In the early days, it took me a while to wrap my head around the concept that a number of boys would find Club Kids, in all our freaky ways, attractive.  It's important to note that the massive venues where we worked, were not exclusively "gay" clubs.  At Limelight for Disco 2000, there was a "gay" lounge upstairs in the Chapel, promoted by Mark Berkley, but Club Kids would not be caught dead in that area.  The gay boys and gay promoters usually had separate nights, often on Sundays.    

The main parts of the mega clubs were always mixed, with a large serving of straight boys, many of whom were open to exploring unchartered territories.  High levels of youthful hormones, alcohol and E certainly played a role in opening people's minds and facilitating connections .  

We were all so young at that time.  I was working in clubs before I was old enough to legally get into them.  I guess that was one of the advantages of pumping a look, you could disguise your age pretty easily.

 Photograph by SKID  Chris Comp, Sacred Boy, Keda & Leigh Bowery  Shampoo Room - Limelight, 1992.

Photograph by SKID

Chris Comp, Sacred Boy, Keda & Leigh Bowery

Shampoo Room - Limelight, 1992.

The Club Kids had a Disney-like appeal.  For many of the club patrons, going somewhere like Disco 2000, was probably a bit like that book, "Where The Wild Things Are", with us being the 'party' monsters.  They would come into our world, play with us, then return to their normal lives.

I had to differentiate between real friendships, and people who just wanted their name on a guest list or a drink ticket.  There were certain privileges that came with being a Club Kid, and there was no shortage of people that were keen to attach themselves, in order to access those benefits, including easy entry into the venues.

The front doors to the mega clubs were often mobbed with crowds of people trying to get in, many waiting for long periods time.  I would always get a surge of adrenaline up the back of my neck upon arriving to the club.  The dash from the taxi cab, through the velvet ropes and into the space required a certain amount of choreographed precision and technique.   The key was to move fast, keep your head down and avoid making eye contact with anyone other than door people and security guards.  If you lingered too long at the door, you'd be bombarded by people tugging on your clothes and asking for assistance in gaining entry.  

After someone secured entry into the main part of the club, the next challenge was getting access to the VIP lounges, which were roped off and guarded by another set of ferocious gate keepers.  Inside the VIP lounges, there were often dinner parties and open bars, as well as, access to drugs, seating, private bathrooms and whatever celebrities might be in attendance on any given night. 

For a cute boy, there was certainly no shortage of perks to cuffing up with a Club Kid, but in all fairness, it was a two way street.

Let's face it, any good queen knows that being surrounded by a handful of cute boys, always comes in handy.   I seemed to have good luck attracting interesting and very good looking guys.  Early on at BUILDING we met this crew of sexy latin boys, named Chris, Chris(tian) and Charlie, all of whom lived Uptown near our place at the Greystone Hotel.  They were not only stunning to look at, but their friendship seemed genuine and sincere.  

 Photograph by Ricky Zia  Chris, Waltpaper & Charlie - Greystone Hotel, 1991.

Photograph by Ricky Zia

Chris, Waltpaper & Charlie - Greystone Hotel, 1991.

Chris was a sweet, sparkly eyed, teddy bear with curly hair.  Charlie had a sharper, svelte, street look with a gelled up fade. Christian was smokey, handsome and looked like a model. 

At some point, my new drag queen friend, Miss Guy, came sniffing around my crew, and pointed out that I was always surrounded by the cutest guys.  She took a liking to Christian, and introduced him to photographer David Armstrong, who shot some pictures of him.  Guy was a makeup artist, and also introduced him to Liv Tyler at some point, and they began dating for a brief period of time.

I really loved Guy, and was grateful for our blossoming friendship, but I also became mindful that I needed to keep my eye on her.  This wouldn't be the last time that she would harvest from my surplus of fellas.

Queens have very blurry boundaries, and ravenous appetites.  They have no reservations about sneaking in and trying to steal your piece.  

One of the reasons that I connected with so many cute guys, was because I spent a lot of time on the main dance floors of the various clubs.  I didn't like hiding out in the VIP rooms.  I loved all my friends and peers who were dressing up, but I got bored standing around with a bunch of queens that I saw every night.  I craved new blood and new experiences.  It was validating and refreshing to be a part of such a distinctive group of people in the scene, such as the Club Kids, but the wandering loner in me, kept me on the move pretty frequently.  

 Photograph by SKID  Waltpaper & Desi  Main Dancefloor - Disco 2000 at Limelight, 1992.

Photograph by SKID

Waltpaper & Desi

Main Dancefloor - Disco 2000 at Limelight, 1992.

On those journeys, I collected a lot friends, acquaintances, and a sprinkling of lovers, that I might not otherwise have acquired.  Another advantage to staying in circulation, was that part of my job was as a promoter for the different clubs nights that I represented.  

Back in those days, we were given boxes of card stock invitations to pass out to every interesting or sexy person that we could find.  During the daytime we would scour the town, placing invites around various shops and colleges.  These cards were pretty hot commodities to the bridge and tunnel kids, as well as, college students because they offered discount admission to the sometimes costly entrance fee.

Keep in mind, that there was no internet, no mobile phones, and no social media in the early 1990's. We were living in an analog world.  If you wanted to reach people, you physically had to use your feet and hands to do it, staying on the move constantly.  It was all about networking everywhere you went, whether it was the flea market, walking down the street, makeup shopping, or to another event or venue.  

Your power, at that time, beyond being fabulous, was your guest list.

Each invite was marked with your identifying stamp or initials.  After the cards were returned to the club for discount entry, they would be gathered by management, separated and counted.  For invites that came in with your mark, you would be paid between $1 - $3 each. 

Many of the bigger promoters, would enlist smaller focused crews of sub promoters to do the footwork and distribute invites in exchange for guest list or drink privileges.  There was a pretty intricate racket going on behind the scenes of these big clubs, and I fell deep into this machinery of nightlife pretty quickly.  

In my personal life, I was still young and naive.  I had very little sexual experience with guys, partially due to the lingering devastation and fears surrounding the AIDS crisis.  That virus was never far from my mind.

My mother and aunt were both bartenders at the local gay bars in Norfolk, Virginia where I attended high school.  Many of my mom's friends and patrons died from AIDS, and she was quick to tell me, "Don't drop your pants for just anyone."

I dated and had sex with a handful of girls in high school.  I even winded up with a girlfriend's name tattooed on my ankle.  I never hid my sexuality, but the reality was that there weren't many opportunities for me to have sex with guys.  I was certainly looking, crushing and hoping, but I never seemed to bag any action.

When I was seven, I first experienced intimacy with another boy my age, named Jade.  We hid under a draped dining room table, and showed each other our penises.  Years later, when I was about 15, I had sex for the first time with a guy that had been my best friend throughout grade school in Missouri, where I lived with my Dad.  

We took to playing Truth or Dare on occasion, which led to us exchanging kisses, oral sex and eventually anal sex.  He was an aspiring drummer, and during one of these games, I dared him to stick a drum stick up his butt.  He countered my dare by suggesting that I allow him to penetrate me, and I did.

He was a beautiful boy too, with honey colored skin and a giant uncut penis.  His sweetness and loyalty to me as a friend resulted in my first sexual experiences with a guy, being very positive.  

We continued to rendezvous, even after I moved away to live with my Mom.  I would meet up with him while visiting my Dad in Missouri during the summer breaks from school.  We even hooked up the day before he got married to a young woman, and after he was married, as well.  Eventually, his wife caught us making out in the yard one night, and had a fit.  I never saw him again, and shortly after that my father moved to Ohio.

I got off once with his brother too.  We talked about having a three way, but concluded that it was just too weird, since they were brothers.  I guess I was a bit of a jezebel, my first few times out the gate.  It must have been all that porn I would watch from my Dad's satellite dish.  

 Photograph by Mr. Leaonard  Donald - Boots & Saddle, c. 1991.

Photograph by Mr. Leaonard

Donald - Boots & Saddle, c. 1991.

So here I was standing on the balcony at BUILDING with Donald, the beautiful cherry lipped boy with bright red urine.  We exchanged phone numbers and he eventually came to see me at the Greystone Hotel.

Still, as I write this, I have to pause when I think about how stunningly beautiful he was.  To my eyes and sensibility now, he was not particularly muscular.  He was starting to build up his body, and would sometimes drop to the sidewalk to do pushups, or nab some pull ups on a bit of scaffolding, but he wasn't a gym bunny, and was still very much a young boy.

It turned out that his red urine was the result of eating a strict diet that involved tons of beets.  He was obsessed with them for some reason.

Although, he was this incredibly sexy boy, and I was this incredibly strange looking queen with no eyebrows and antennae hair, I don't recall ever feeling self conscious.  I never thought about my body as being deficient in anyway.  All that body obsession anxiety arrived into my life later, when I hit my 30's.  

Through my late teens and early 20's, it was all about getting myself as close to the edge of freakiness as I could possibly manage.  I never felt made for this world and I became dead set on creating my own.

Nowadays, young gays seem to be all about body and sex, which I think stems from the pornification of the culture at large, due in large part to needing to get those LIKES and validation on social media. 

For me, in the early Nineties, I wasn't overtly focused on my physical body or on having sex. A big part of that was my anxiety about AIDS.  Sex felt off limits to some extent, especially in a big city like New York.  We still didn't know much at that time about how it was transmitted, and the drug treatments were not yet firmly in place.  At that time, I still thought I might get AIDS from a toilet seat or kissing the wrong person.

So my focus was on dressing up, dancing and taking drugs.  My hormones, were of course boiling over, but sex was pretty far down the line in priorities.  So when Donald came along, all bets were off.  I couldn't resist the risk.

When he came up to the Greystone that first time, he seemed really comfortable and familiar with sex.  He quickly put me at ease and asked me what I was interested in doing sexually.  I honestly didn't know, because I wasn't that experienced.  Just the feel of another boy's body next to mine in bed was more than extraordinary.  Kissing his beautiful lips sent sparks cracking through my whole body.

It's strange, because I don't remember many of the details of us having sex, probably because it wasn't anything wild or off the wall.  It was just two tender young boys being intimate. 

I distinctly remember taking a shower with him afterwards, observing, again, how incredibly beautiful he was.  He also did a snot rocket in the shower, to clean out his nose.  I had never seen someone clean out their nose that way.  He also urinated in the shower. Both of these gestures I found oddly charming, and they added to my growing perception of him as this tough streetwise angel. 

One of the things Donald loved to do was Whip Its.  I don't even know if people still do these, but in the Nineties you could buy these little metal canisters of nitrous oxide, also known as Laughing Gas, and crack them open in a special canister to inhale the gas.  I never really liked them too much, because I got a distinct sense that by doing them, I was completely frying my brain cells.  Donald would buy a whole box of them, and do them all in one night.

Much like I didn't have any consciousness about my body at that age, I knew nothing about addiction, and very little about hustlers and prostitution.

When I got to New York and involved with clubs, I became more familiar with prostitution because a number of the trans girls would talk about tricking, and at this time, you still saw a lot of street walkers in the Meat Packing District and on 10th avenue and 27th street, en route to Tunnel Nightclub.  These were proper cinema style hookers....fishnets, lingerie, thigh high boots and beat up fur coats.

I didn't know anything about male hustlers.  Sometimes I would to hear the mention of boys turning tricks down by the Christopher Street Piers and at the Port Authority Bus Terminal near Times Square.  I was not seasoned enough to be able to distinguish what a hustler even looked like.  Female hookers, at least street ones, were much easier to identify, because they dressed like the hookers in the movies.

I found out many years later that Donald, my beautiful cherry lipped angel, was a well known and somewhat notorious hustler.  There was a story about him handcuffing some queen to a radiator, then stealing all their stuff.  I was shocked hearing all these things.  That was not at all the person that I knew.

Donald was so sweet and protective of me.  Perhaps because I was of no threat to him.  I was completely oblivious to the ways of New York.

My fondest memory of Donald was of him calling me up one night to let me know he was coming Uptown to see me.  Even though it was an off night from clubbing, he insisted that I get all dressed up in full Club Kid regalia, antenna hair and all.  He didn't explain why, but eventually arrived to the hotel.

He said, "Come on, were are going out."  I asked him where, but he insisted that I just come with him.  We got down to the lobby of the hotel and I went to hail a taxi cab.  He said, "No, we're taking the subway."  I protested, explaining to him that I couldn't get on the subway dressed the way that I was.  

In those days, New York was still quite dangerous, especially the subways at night.  You really had to watch your back and make sure you didn't call attention to yourself.  It was at that point that he revealed to me where he was taking me.

He said, "I am taking you to Times Square."  I gagged again, insisting that there is no way I was going to Times Square, fully dressed up in Club Kid drag, where it was dangerous and filled with all kinds of drama.  Keep in mind, this was before Disney bought up that area and turned it into a tourist trap.

He insisted again, begged me to trust him, and began to lead me to the subway station, while explaining to me what his plan was.

He told me that I was so beautiful, and should be able to dress any way that I wanted to with out being harassed or harmed by anyone, in any place, at any time of the day.  He wanted to escort me on the subway to Times Square to prove that, as long as I stayed with him, no one would harm me.  He would protect me.

So I trusted him, and I followed him.

He walked me onto the train and took me directly to Times Square.  The whole time he walked a couple steps in front of me, with his fists cocked, ready to swing at anyone that dared to looked at me funny.

Not one person looked at me.  Not one person laughed at me.  Not one person taunted me.

I fell madly in love with him instantly.  Dreams that I didn't even know I had, were coming true.  We eventually bought a box of Whip Its and headed back to my place and spent the night together.

After that, Donald started going missing.  He just wasn't around as much, and I lost track of him pretty quickly.  

One night he turned up at the Michael Todd Room inside of Palladium, but he had completely changed his look, and it seemed as though he had also changed his personality.

He talked differently and dressed in this really dowdy way, with a flannel shirt and grown out unkept hair.  The shine and the tenderness that he had, was all gone.  I don't even remember noticing his cherry lips.  

He was wearing these John Lennon type glasses and carrying around a sketch book, doing doodles of different people, similar to John Lennon's drawings. He seemed completely shut off from reality, and I didn't really know what to do with that behavior.  That was the last time I saw him.

I didn't have any pictures of him, and my club life kicked into high gear soon after that, with numerous experiences occupying my focus.  But I always held the sweetest spot in my heart for Donald and the odd tenderness that he shared with me.

After the big nightclub fallout in 1996, I went to go work in galleries to escape all the drama.  One day I opened up Time Out Magazine and there was a beautiful picture of Donald on the street.  It mentioned that Donald was a famous Christopher Street hustler, and that was the first time I understood a lot of the details of our experience together.

I now had some insight into why he was always numbing himself with Whip Its, and maybe why he eventually went mad.  But I still never knew what happened to him.

In 2005, upon returning to New York, after living in London for a few years.  I took up a job managing the studio of photographer, Jack Pierson.  As I was going through his collection of artworks, that needed to be inventoried, I came across a beautiful framed photo of Donald.

I explained to Jack, that Donald had been my first lover in New York, and I had no pictures of him, and had lost track of him.  He gave me that picture as a gift, and told me a photographer named Mr. Leonard had taken it.  He purchased it from an exhibition titled, "Three Musers, One Muse" at the Tom Cugliani Gallery.  The whole show was photographs of Donald by three different photographers.

I realized that the image I saw in Time Out must have been from that exhibition.  Jack suggested that I contact Mr. Leonard, who was now in Florida, and see if he had any more pictures of him.

Through social media, I was able to track down Mr. Leonard, and told him my Time Square story about Donald.  He said the last time he saw him, was on Greenwich Avenue leaving St. Vincent's Hospital and he was in very bad shape.  He had gotten heavily into crack abuse and died from AIDS around 1996.

 Photograph by Mr. Leoanard  Donald - East Village, c. 1991.

Photograph by Mr. Leoanard

Donald - East Village, c. 1991.

A few weeks later, I received a package from Mr. Leonard, containing a number of his portraits of Donald.  He said that he might have more, but that those were all he could find at the moment.

I continued my dialogue with Mr. Leonard, encouraging him to organize his archive of photos, and perhaps I could help get them into some exhibitions.  I fantasized about going down to Florida and picking through his archive to discover even more pictures of Donald.

I never got the chance to get to Florida, and sadly, Mr. Leonard also passed away.

I keep Donald's picture above my bed, and always hope that his spirit is near and protecting me, the same way he did when he took me to Times Square.

Waltpaper - October, 2018.

The Shoe Game by Walt Cassidy


Waltpaper, 1992.

Greek Maxx Magazine

The Shoe Game

My favorite club when I moved to New York City was a spot called BUILDING.  It was there that I got my first job, and Waltpaper emerged.  I was hired to make decor for the VIP lounge, promote and go-go dance.  To do the oversized painted illustrations for the VIP, they offered me an attic space in the club to use as a studio.  My artwork, at that time, was still vastly underdeveloped.  I was only in my second year of college, but in my 19 year old mind, I had been discovered and "made it" in the big city.  

I was a great fan of Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Robert Mapplethorpe,.  When I got to New York, I began to discover the work of local (and living) artists such as Tabboo!, Martine, and Michael Economy, all of whom had a presence and connection to the Downtown nightclub scene through their work.  Using their example, I started to imagine that I too could live a life where nightclubs and my artwork would be intertwined.

When I met Tabboo!, he invited me and my friend Ricky Zia over to his home studio.  It was there that he told me one of the kindest and most insightful things that I've ever heard.  He was talking about the fiercely competitive queens and artists in the city, and how everyone was always jockeying for the spotlight.  He then stated, very simply, "There is enough room for everyone."  That bit of insight is something that I have carried with me though my whole professional life. I still recite it to this day, often passing it on to younger artists.

Every day and night was filled with meeting new amazing people, one after the other.  It was so exciting and invigorating to have discovered this oasis of amazing talent and energy,

One night, while go-go dancing, I was invited to do my first magazine editorial for Greek MAXX, which is pictured above.  Once that happened, my Club Kid game was in full play.

BUILDING nightclub was housed in a de-commissioned Con Edison power station at 51 West 26th street, just off of 6th Avenue.  It was designed by Argentine architect Carlos Almada and managed by Howard Schaffer, who later went on to do Bowery Bar and is currently involved with The Standard hotels.  

Initially, it catered to the Hip Hop crowd.  Puff Daddy got his start there as a promoter, and it maintained a strong urban base throughout it’s run, until 1991.  Saturday nights were dedicated to a house music party called Groove Thing, hosted by DJ Keoki.

Beyond the gorgeous design of the stripped down industrial space, the club attracted an ethnically diverse crowd, stemming from it’s Hip Hop roots.  There was a fantastic mix of banjee boys, freaks and drag queens on Saturdays.  The main floor crowd could get pretty edgy at times, and there were occasional rumors of guns going off, but I ever witnessed it.

The door on Saturday’s was done by Jojo Americo and Richard Alvarez, who were iconic members of the House of Field.  The VIP lounge was hosted by Linda Simpson, who created an underground gay magazine called My Comrade, and her running buddy, Page, along with an assortment of Club Kids and Downtown personalities.

Gina Vetro, also known as Chicklet, did the VIP rope.  She had been one of the starring characters, along with Codie Ravioli, in the MTV series, Art School Girls of Doom.

Before I had made the move to NYC, I was a freshman at Kent State University.  While on spring break, I came to visit a fellow KSU student, Ivan Samuels, who was from the Bronx.  We had met on campus and quickly became fast friends. I had a budding interest in clubs, and he, having grown up in the city, was a seasoned club goer.  He was the person that first took me and Ricky, to BUILDING, whilst on that trip.

Ivan was the coolest, most beautiful and stylish guy that I had ever met.  He was tall, with dark skin, full lips, and newly formed dreads.  He was always dripping in colors and patterns. The pants, shirts and shoes that he put together created silhouettes that were different than anything I had seen.  I had only experienced style from the vantage point of the political punk and alternative scenes that existed between Virginia Beach and Washington DC during my high school years. 

I had seen movies about life in the city such as, Mondo New York, Slaves of New York, 9 1/2 Weeks and Something Wild.  I had also grown up reading ID magazine, The Face and publications from the RE/Search series.  So there were seeds planted in my head, but no concrete resources in suburban Virginia to cultivate these resting ideas.

Ivan was pure NEW YORK CITY, with the accent to match.  He walked fast and talked fast, and was a great mentor to me, when I finally began living here.

One of clues, at that time, that someone was from New York City, was their shoes.  It was all about the “bubble toe shoe” in 1990, which was synonymous with clubbing. They looked like clown shoes, with a round inflated toe and a cushy sole that was great for dancing.

Hip Hop, Afrocentricity, Acid and House Music were all cross pollinating as the late 80’s transitioned into the 90’s, and in my mind, the ultimate symbol of that moment was that particular shoe style. You couldn’t find them outside of big cities, like New York.  I assume you may have been able to get them in Chicago and probably Los Angeles, but I am not sure.

In New York, the shoe game was focused around 8th Street, between Broadway and 6th avenue, a strip dominated by stores that carried a variety of bubble shoes, in addition to every other style.  The original Pat Field store was also located in that area, and the sidewalks were flooded with a fantastic array of street style.

Let’s face it, a look starts and ends with a shoe, and that was especially true for Club Kid style.  How you chose and customized your footwear defined you as much as the nickname you created for yourself.  

Upon arriving to live in NYC and attend SVA, I began buying funky shoes from a shop called Screaming Mimi’s, located on East 4th street.  I had heard of this shop before, because Cyndi Lauper had worked there, and I also took note of it because Michael Economy was the artist behind many of their illustrated advertisements.  It was a great shop, especially for those awkward vintage shoes.  

I had been an avid thrift store shopper all throughout high school.  Aside from one visionary shop in Norfolk, called Street Theatre, which is where I bought my ID and Face magazines. The only other option you had to create unique looks, was to buy vintage at thrift stores.  My interest in used clothes came from the movie Pretty in Pink, which had a huge impact on me.  I too, like the main character played by Molly Ringwald, was a funky kid from the wrong side of the tracks.

The East Village was filled with a plethora of interesting well curated vintage shops, including Rose’s Vintage, Antique Boutique, Howdy Do, Alice’s Underground and of course Love Saves The Day, which had been iconicized in the film Desperately Seeking Susan.

One of the things that I remember distinctly about the early 90’s, was the weight of the platform shoes that myself and fellow Club Kids began creating at the local shoe repair shops.

Many of us were adding platforms to the standard Doc Marten shoe or boot, a footwear staple that we carried over from the alternative and punk scenes that initially groomed us.  I had my pair of knee high platform DM boots, just like the others.  Boots of any kind, usually transitioned well into a platformed style because they were structurally sound and could handle the additional weight of the platform.  

I became interested in trying to platform some other styles of footwear, just to give myself a slightly different edge.  Some of these attempts were complete failures.  There were moments when my shoes would just snap into two pieces, or the platform would come unglued from the shoe midway through a night out, leaving me hobbling along until I found a way home.

I would buy these funky shoes at Mimi’s and then take them to Alex Shoe Repair and have him cut off the existing soles and replace them with platforms, adding anywhere from 4 to 7 inches.  I platformed the Wallaby-type suede shoes, that I am wearing in the Greek Maxx photo shoot, as well as some pimp shoes, that I wore in my Looks To Look For feature in Project X magazine.  Those are one of the shoe styles that just snapped in two due to the weight of the platform. 

 Photographs by Michael Fazakerley

Photographs by Michael Fazakerley

Later down the line, I eventually found a fantastic buckled sandal from John Fluevog that I platformed and stenciled the logo of my favorite band, PLASMATICS, on the side.  Those were my all time favorite shoes.  I wish I had kept them, but they were so heavy to carry around when I started traveling and living in Europe.

Initially Alex didn’t use the soft sneaker rubber that would eventually come to define the outrageous Club Kid style platforms, he used the hard heavy rubber made for boots.  As we were developing the designs we wanted made, he was also still figuring out how to make them.

It was Erle, Lil Keni and Jennytalia that really pushed the platform shoe game over the edge, because they had the insight to begin platforming sneakers, which called for the use of lighter rubber soling that also came in a range of bright colors.  The shoes that those three developed were real museum pieces.

They added a sculptural element by cutting each layer of the stacked sole into a different horizontally relief shape.  Their creations they looked like exploding comic book word bubbles worthy of a Lichtenstein painting.  They were able to add height, color and surface.  Keni had built the three dimensional letters of his name into his shoe.

While using the lighter rubber made the shoes much less heavy, the horizontal sculptural elements added an additional obstacle, which forced the wearer to develop a specific walking style.  They had to "walk around" their own footwear, if that makes sense.  As Club Kids, many of us had to teach ourselves new styles of walking and dancing to accommodate our footwear and various make shift garments.

The shoes became our very own mobile go-go boxes attached to our feet, and we perched gloriously on top of them.

And that brings me back to BUILDING.

One of the most exciting break throughs in my time at BUILDING, was that I met my very first lover Donald, on one of the three balconies that extended from the VIP area.

I had never seen a boy quite so beautiful, let alone one that took the initiative to actually flirt with me.  We were talking about my purple tutu that I was wearing and he said to me, "My urine is purple too."  I paused for a moment, and thought, "Wow, this guy isn't just beautiful, he's freaky and weird too."  What a great combination.  I was all in, but I will save our story for my next post.... be continued


September 2018

 Detail from Webster Hall Street Poster, c.1994  Original Photograph by Adolfo

Detail from Webster Hall Street Poster, c.1994

Original Photograph by Adolfo

UFO - Piercing, tattooing & Body Modification by Walt Cassidy


Paper Magazine


Photographed by Haim Ariav

Fashion Editor Peter Davis

Models: Waltpaper, Astro Erle, Mihoko, Christopher Comp and Desi Monster

UFO - Piercing , Tattooing & Body Modification

The Club Kid umbrella was far reaching, and under it, were a number of sub-cliques.  

Astro Erle, Desi Monster and myself formed a trinity of sorts in 1991.  We were always together, each occupying a different element.  Our looks cross pollinated and we built them from the industrial, mechanical and plastic supply stores on Canal street.  We used various bits of plastic, rubber and metal, then hot glued everything together into different ensembles that were worn to the club.

Erle’s personal style was cyber, futuristic, intense and aggressive.  Desi was all about masks and morphing his body with different mechanical devices, while conveying a dark, but playful sense of humor.  I was tribal, ethnic, insect-like, earthy, witchy and cult-y.

I generally preferred to be almost naked, utilizing makeup, handmade accessories, shoes and hair more than masks and costumes.  I wanted to dance and be free, without the restraint of a heavy ensemble.  Desi, however, loved challenging gear that he often had to painfully endure, and Erle fluctuated somewhere in between function and restraint. He also pulled in various fetish references that we would all come to incorporate into our looks.

Erle was the pioneer who turned the rest of us on to extreme body piercing. He had been hanging out with the butch lesbians in San Francisco, who were doing transgressive things like surgically clipping the tops of their ears off to make them pointy shaped. like a pit bull or alien.

Around this time, Gauntlet opened a second floor piercing salon on 5th Avenue. The first Gauntlet appeared in West Hollywood in 1978, and then in San Francisco. It was founded by Jim Ward and catered to the gay BDSM community. Ward designed and created a number of body jewelry pieces that are now standards, including the "barbell", "circular barbell", and "captive bead ring".

Prior to this, while in high school, I had come across the ground breaking publication RE/Search #12: MODERN PRIMITIVES and the photography work of Charles Gatewood. I was also an avid fan of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work before arriving to NYC. These seeds were planted inside of me, but it wasn’t until I became friends with Erle, that I really began to utilize those aesthetics.

Lauren Pine, who was a friend and celebrated figure in the body modification and nightlife scenes, became one of the master piercers at Gauntlet, and subsequently executed many of the Club Kid piercings. Lauren was recognized for her extreme waist training, and mentored by legendary corset maker Mr. Pearl, a contemporary of Leigh Bowery’s.

Magazine editorials featuring the Club Kids began highlighting our exploration into body modification and piercing. Ravers, whom we were closely affiliated with, began to embrace piercing as well, and from there the trend blossomed. Soon even Supermodels began to get pierced, and it continued to ripple out into the mainstream public consciousness.

As for our little group within the Club Kids, we called ourselves UFO, and all got a tattoo of a space ship with legs and platform shoes, that I had drawn. Christopher Comp was also a part of UFO. He was Michael Alig’s assistant at the time, so was usually handling administrative tasks while at the club, and micro managing the rest of us.

Desi, Erle and myself probably became so close because we were often booked to go-go dance together on the main dance floors of the various Peter Gatien clubs. Many of the other Club Kids would be hired to just host, no dancing required, so would stay tucked away in the VIP rooms, unless there was a specific event on the main dance floor.

The three of us loved dancing, attention and the energy of the big crowd. In addition to that, the main dance floor was where all the cute Bridge & Tunnel boys were, and we were always hunting for a new skater or banjee boy to trot around.

At some point, we became good friends with a crew of New Jersey guys who ran a tattoo shop, which later expanded into a body jewelry company, called Rings and Things. It was owned by Cary Brief, who we first met in connection with the Smart Bar’s that began to pop up in Limelight. I don’t remember why he was affiliated with them, but maybe it was one of his businesses?

Smart Bars catered to drug use, much of which did not mix well with alcohol. The high influx of Ecstasy led to hours upon hours of non stop dancing. One could easily become dehydrated, so these non alcoholic bars were created to provide juices, Gatorade and snacks that helped us all stay on good trips.

After meeting Cary, the three of us got much more into tattooing and body piercing because he would work on us for free in New Jersey. We also appeared at a tattoo convention that his company organized. For that event, I painted a giant backdrop to highlight the band, Lunachicks, who were performing.

It’s important to note that tattooing was illegal in New York City until 1997. It wasn’t accessible, like it is today.

Another shop that was vital to our exploration of this vernacular, was Body Worship, located in the East Village. They carried a wide range of intelligently designed bondage gear made in rubber, metal, leather and latex. This gear perfectly complimented the looks we were coming up with, and the owner was a great supporter of us, and would custom make corsets, or any other item that we might need.

There was abundant collaborative and supportive energy floating all around the club scene of the 1990’s. Whatever we wanted to achieve, there was always someone who would help us, whether it was tattooing, piercing, or making outfits. It was an incredibly vibrant time.


Race, Culture, Mob Mentality and the journey to Nyc by Walt Cassidy




Photographed by Michael Fazakerley

Race, Culture, Mob Mentality and The Journey To NYC

This is a good example of my early makeup.

In high school, as a punk kid, I had worn black eye liner daily, but that was the extent of my experience with makeup when I arrived to New York City in 1991.

When I began pushing Club Kid looks, I started out with a palette of black, iridescent white, grey and red makeup.  I used cheap Maybelline or Cover Girl liquid foundation and white baby powder.  All of which I purchased from the local drug store.

I was a transfer student to School of Visual Arts.  I had attended one year at Kent State University in Ohio, where I majored in Painting and African Studies.   it was there where I made friends with a guy named Ivan Samuels from the Bronx. 

At Kent State, my goal was to move to Africa and make art.  I am not sure why I was so drawn to Africa, but there were a few key things that probably influenced my interest.

I had been raised on Darwin’s theories of evolution.  The skull that is tattooed in the center of my chest, was actually drawn from the skull on the cover of the book, On The Origins Of Species, that I grew up with.   My father rejected the Catholicism of his parents, and raised me Agnostic.  I never went to church, and religion was considered hypocritical, backwards and basic.

He had grown up on the South Side of Chicago, and throughout his life caused a tremendous amount of friction with his family for dating multi-cultural girls and running around with the Greek Mafia. 

When he was young, my grandmother told him to lie about being Irish, and to tell people he was English, something for which he carried a resentment towards his mother his whole life.  At that time, being Irish was akin to being Black or any other minority, and perhaps this is why he felt more comfortable dating girls of color. 

While he was in the Navy, he met and married a Filipino woman in Hawaii.  They had two children.  My Dad’s family were not happy about their son having bi-racial children with an ethnic wife. They never fully accepted my older brother and sister.  

At one point, when my father hit a rough patch, he asked his family for support with the kids, and they turned their back on him.  It created a riff that was never resolved, and I never knew father’s family as a result.

By the time I was born, he had retired from the Navy, divorced his first and second wife, and was going to college and studying Industrial Psychology, Business and Painting.  My earliest childhood memories were created on the campus of the University of Southern California in the 1970′s.

My Dad took me to a lot of cultural festivals.   I was intuitively drawn to Native American culture.  Once, while at one of these festivals, I had to go to the bathroom.  To my great surprise, when I came out of the stall, I looked up and their were five or six giant Native American Indians, in full tribal costume standing in a circle around me.  They appeared to be at least 20 feet tall and dripping in color, feathers, beads and leather.  I was stunned, absolutely breathless with glee and wonder at all the pageantry.

My father was constantly stimulating me to think, imagine and dream. Anything that I had an interest in, he took great passion in cultivating experiences to foster my curiosity.  He nourished my creativity and intelligence to no end.

I was always encouraged to find logic in the abstract.  We would look at the stars together and he would challenge me to name the various constellations.

We would observe the clouds in the sky when driving in the car.  My Dad would ask me “What do you see in the clouds?”  I would detail for him the various subjects and narratives that came to mind as I dissected the billowing shapes.

I was raised on the Matthew Arnold quote, “Resolve to by thyself; and know that he who finds himself, loses his misery.”  My father repeated that over and over to me.

We had a fantastic library of books.  Our address frequently changed, but the library was always the same.  It was an important and focal part of the house.  My Dad loved a den, and the library was always in the den.  There were books on everything, and he never shielded me away from adult subject matter. I was always spoken to as an adult, never as a child. 

Our library included not just books on Darwin, but also nude photography, lots of Picasso, illustrations of faeries, and the fantasy and erotic imagery of Boris Vallejo.  There were books on drugs and psychology.  I was entranced by the sociological studies of hippies on acid that were featured in his psychology textbooks.  

There was one particular book on American History that included photographs of lynchings in the South.  These were the historic documents of racism in America, in all it’s brutality and horror.  I was paralyzed at the sight of these black bodies distorted from abuse and torture, hanging, burned and mangled, with crowds of gleeful white faces, wide eyed and smiling below.

I didn’t have the breadth of language, thought or politics at that age to understand the images, but I felt the horror.  I saw evil.  I saw a bunch of people who all looked the same, destroying an individual who looked different. 

As Junior High School approached, I had grown restless living alone with my Dad.  We had relocated many times until landing on a 200 acre ranch in the Southern most part of Missouri.   

My mother lived in Norfolk Virginia, with my sister, and worked as a bartender in the local gay bars with my Aunt Ernestine.  Puberty drew me to leave my father and go live with her.   I was getting to the age where horses and farm life were not enough, I needed some action and to be around more people.  I was also curious to get to know my mother a little better.

She lived on the “wrong side of the tracks” in a predominantly black neighborhood.  You know, there always seems to be one freaky white kid in every black neighborhood.  Well, I was that kid.

By the time I was 15, I had been fully emerged in punk rock.  I was pierced, wearing my black eyeliner, combat boots and a leather jacket, all topped off by a giant blue black mohawk. 

The school buses didn’t come to our neighborhood.  So everyday, I rode the public bus with the black kids from my area.  It was a bus full of Jheri curls and 1 giant black mohawk.

I never had any friction with the black kids growing up.  My problems started when I got to school, and had to deal with the white kids from the more affluent neighborhoods.

I was taunted every day for the way that I looked by these white guys, but I never ran away from the harassment. My father raised me to believe that I was a completely unique and special person.  I believed that I was worthy of my place in the world, however abrasive a given social situation may be.  The embedding of that Matthew Arnold quote came in handy.

There was one time when I was walking home from school and a big pickup truck full of white guys from my school drove by me.  They began shouting at me.  I impulsively flipped them off.  They immediately stopped the truck, leaped out and came running towards me.  They began punching me in the face repeatedly.

I knew that I didn’t stand a chance defending myself physically against a group of guys, so I played the crazy card.  I asked them to keep hitting me in the face, that I liked it, and I stepped closer to them.  

They didn’t know what to do with that reaction.  I had absorbed their aggression and became a mirror.  They stopped and got back in the truck and drove away.

I carry multiple scars on my face from experiences like this growing up.  

One time while at the local mall, I was falsely accused of shop lifting because of the way that I looked.  The police were called and I was detained. They searched my bag and jacket for a bracelet that I was accused of stealing.  It was no where to be found.  The police said that they should strip search me, but they didn’t want to “get AIDS from a faggot like me”.  Yet again, I was surrounded by white men, taking hits.  This seemed to be a constant.

These are the types of experiences that created a deep mistrust of groups of white people.  

During those high school years, I was exposed to the band Dead Can Dance.  They resonated so deeply with me through their broad range of imagined and ethnographical references.  Lisa Gerrard sang in a language completely of her own making.

I’ve always felt comfortable being submerged in an imaginary world, also of my own creation.  From my earliest memories, I was quite happy to be alone traveling around inside my own head.  So the idea of creating a language unique to one’s own internal experience, made perfect sense to me, and it inspired me to be strong as I continued my solitary journey in life.

The work of Dead Can Dance was tempered with references to tribal cultures from around the world.  There is a stateless quality to their music.  It is everything and nothing at the same time.  That type of paradoxical abstraction fit the parameters of my mind seamlessly.

Having spent so much time alone in my life, in a broken family, without any structures of religion or culture, the one thing I hadn’t experienced was “the group”.  In my young mind, groups resonated as threats, because of the pictures I saw in my father’s books of lynchings and my experiences of being constantly attacked in school.

Even though I was fine being alone all the time, there was a part of me that longed to be involved with a community, that longed for a family experience that I had never had.  The notion of “tribes” had alluded me at different stops on my childhood journey.

Whether it was the Native Americans that surrounded me in the bathroom or the groups of stoned hippies in my Dad’s psych textbooks, I kept getting these hints that maybe, somewhere out in the world, I had my own tribe waiting for me.

My first taste of this possibility, was through punk rock, and the first substantial friendships I made, while in high school, were with a scattering of punk kids around the Norfolk and Virginia Beach area.

Hardcore was an amazing introduction to American tribalism.  It was invigoratingly ritualistic, but there was something missing for me.  It felt like a skeletal structure, without any meat on it.  It lacked tenderness, and it lacked the ethereal.  There were softer and more subtle aspects to my internal experience that punk rock did not address.

I discovered that you could check out records from the public library.  I loved hanging out in the library in Downtown Norfolk.  It felt like a safe zone, where no one would bother me.  It was also a larger version of my Dad’s library. 

It was there where I first discovered Janis Joplin’s records, and first discovered the Blues.  She had all the hardness of what I was experiencing in punk, but it was combined with this deep emotional intelligence and vulnerability.  It penetrated me.

I had never heard sounds that resonated in such perfect pitch with my own experience.  I listen to those records obsessively, over and over again.  Her vocal runs buttered my soul.  She, like Lisa Gerrard, although Janis sang in English, had still managed to create her own language using sound.

I came to understand that these were primal voices.  And I began to believe that I must have one of these voices inside of me too.

If I was going to find this voice, I was probably going to find it through studying tribal culture.  All of my childhood experiences and obsessions turned into puzzle pieces, which began to fit and point me towards Africa.

I needed to get back to the “origins of species” to find my answers, and those origins existed in Africa in the Omo Valley, where the first human remains were discovered.

So when I got to Kent State, I gravitated to the African Studies Department, one, so I could learn about Eastern Africa, and two, because I felt safer being around Black students than Whites students.  I ended up making fantastic white friends too and was pleased to discover that college life was so much more palatable than High School life.  Every one was so much more chilled out.

When I met Ivan, we connected on a very deep level, and we became great friends.  He talked a lot about New York, and seemed to miss his life there.  He told me fantastic stories about the diversity in New York and the vibrance of the club scene.

Around this time, my musical journey had drawn me towards house music.  I was also listening to a lot of the commercial Afro-centric hip hop artists of the time.  Ivan, myself and some friends went on a road trip to check out Chicago one weekend and go clubbing.  This was my first introduction to larger format nightclubs.

After that trip, Ivan suggested that I come visit him in New York when we were on break.  He said that the club scene in New York was something that I should definitely see and experience.  So I went to New York, and that was it.

When I saw the broad range of culture on the street and in the clubs, I knew there was no other place that I could be.  Everything I thought I would find in Africa, I found on the dance floors of nightclubs. It was, in fact, The Global Village. 

I applied and transferred to School of Visual Arts, and in the Fall of 1991, I found myself planted at the Greystone Hotel on West 91st Street, which was partially used as an SVA dorm.

At this point, I began to pass through the looking glass.

Finding My Tribe, Puberty and AIDS, Learning The Ropes by Walt Cassidy


Finding My Tribe, Puberty and AIDS, Learning The Ropes

When I arrived to New York City in 1991, I was as green as they come.

Luckily I had a couple of informed running buddies.  I had two friends, Ivan Samuels, who I met at Kent State University and Ricky Zia, who was a fellow student at the Governors Magnet School for The Arts in Norfolk, Virginia.  

Ricky was beginning his first year at SVA, and I was in my second year, as a transfer student. We were both moving into the Greystone Hotel on West 91st Street, which was partially used as a dorm.

Ricky had been reading INTERVIEW Magazine and DETAILS all throughout high school, so he was much more informed about the particulars of the social scene in New York.  He was familiar with all the darlings of Downtown, from the Warhol people, to Diane Brill and he even knew about Michael Alig and the Club Kids.

I knew about Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat, Those were the artists that I looked up to, and whose footsteps I wanted to follow in.  I had also seen Mondo New York, Slaves of New York, Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes on MTV and movies like 9 1/2 Weeks, Desperately Seeking Susan, and Something Wild.

I knew there was this funky freaky scene of creatives that existed in Downtown NYC, but how we were going to penetrate it, I wasn’t sure.  Like moths to the flame, we just flew directly towards the light and the heat.

We arrived at the end of summer, just before the Fall semester.  

Walking around the streets we saw this black and white poster with faces of drag queens all collaged together.  It was promoting an event called Wigstock, an outdoor music festival being staged at Union Square Park, with the band Deee-lite scheduled to headline.

Deee-lite was at the peak of their success, and we, like everyone else, were huge fans.  I had seen them perform in Cleveland, Ohio, while at Kent State, and they were incredible.  They presented a broad spectrum of international music and fashion references culled from various time periods.  Their mixture of wit, humor and style was unmatched.  They were the poster children of everything great that was going on in New York City.

So we made our way to Wigstock and saw all these incredible people dressed up, many in quite sophisticated costumes.  There was a sea of gay people, completely liberated and in full peacock mode.  We definitely stumbled upon the right event to welcome us to the city.

There was a back stage area that was fenced off with barricades, and Ricky and I watched with our eyes wide open.  The performances were so much more evolved than what I knew of drag queens from the bars that my mom worked in. 

These queens were so next level, and there was a distinctive “show biz” vibe to that particular Wigstock.  I imagine the great success of Deee-lite had a lot to do with this.  They had broken through and were holding the attention of the mainstream world audience, as well as, the music industry.  

Whenever a group or individual breaks through with fame and success, the various creative industries involved often look to the scene around that particular success story, in hopes of finding additional talent to cultivate.  Take for example Seattle and Grunge.

Deee-lite, Clubbing, the East Village and all things Downtown were having this moment and the queens showed up with their game faces on hoping to bite the next hook.

The Union Square Park Wigstock, was perhaps a graduation from the earlier versions Lady Bunny had staged at Tompkins Square Park, which had been closed that summer, after rioting ensued, as the city began a campaign to clean up the park and clear away the homeless people who had settled there.  Wigstock would eventually return to Tompkins Square Park, once more, before being relocated to the Piers.

The boys in the Wigstock crowd, were particularly stunning.  Where did all these beautiful New York boys come from with their full red lips and sparkling eyes? There was definitely something in the water.

I felt like after a life of seeing in black and white, I finally discovered full color.  There wasn’t a broad range of ethnicity in the areas where I had grown up.  Suburbia has a way of erasing cultural details and flattening out people’s perspectives.  The categories were Black, White or Asian. 

I was a freaky White kid from a Black neighborhood, and that was it.

I had grown up with a bi-racial brother and sister, who were, for the most part, estranged.  My Dad, having been raised in Chicago, had wonderful tales of culture that he had experienced as a kid.  He was very proud of being Irish and finding solace in other communities, in particular, with the Greeks, Japanese and Hawaiians.  

He did everything he could to introduce me to the richness of culture that he had experienced out in the world. However, the backdrops that I was given, as a result of where we lived, had been pretty stark, with very little gradation in color or culture.  It had been a high contrast black and white world that I knew of.

In New York, I was immediately intoxicated by this vibrating palette of cultural distinction.  All of a sudden there was a full spectrum of flavors to choose from, each one just as delicious as the next....Jewish, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Irish, Italian, Jamaican, Greek, Japanese, Lebanese, Indian, Chinese, German, and Russian.

The city had also not been gentrified yet.  So every block that you walked down, had it’s own specific cultural flavor.  The streets were lined with small local and family owned businesses.  The mafia was still very present in New York, and that created specific distinctions too.

Things like K-Mart and 7-11 didn’t exist in New York at that time, not to mention the stream of corporate run chains that have now come to dominate the city.  The commercial language of suburbia was completely mute in New York City.

I felt alive and free for the first time in my life.  All the imposed boundaries had been erased.  The terrain was wide open and the possibilities were endless.

I had only had a couple sexual experiences with boys growing up, and a handful more with girls.  Most of my desires were cashed in on fantasizing about some unattainable straight guy that might have been friendly to me at school.  There just wasn’t much fruit to pick from the vine where I grew up.

Arriving to New York, was like arriving to an orchard, spilling over with the brightest, freshest and sweetest fruit.  There was one hitch though.  We were smack dab in the middle of the AIDS crisis, as it continued to wipe out huge volumes of men from our community.

Condoms and safe sex were heavily promoted.  Every gay bar, bookstore and coffee shop had bowls of free condoms, but there was still a tremendous amount of uncertainty about how it was transmitted and if there was ever going to be a successful treatment.

You could feel the heaviness of AIDS in the air, but by the 90′s, we had been processing it for a decade.  Being gay and living a full life didn’t seem to be on the menu.  The image of the gay man, had become an image of a sick man, punished for his lifestyle and fighting to stay alive.  Many of my mother’s friends from the gay bar where she worked, had passed.  She used to say to me, “Don’t drop your pants for just anyone.”

To me, sex, kinda felt off limits at this time. Not because I had any shame or guilt about being gay, but because I was still grossly uninformed about the details of HIV and AIDS.  I had anxiety using public bathrooms, fearing I might get it from sitting on a toilet seat.  I wasn’t sure if I could get it from kissing someone. There was just so much that I didn’t know.

I believe this is one of the reasons why my focus became dressing up, going out and taking drugs.  As much as I was stimulated by the wide range of beautiful boys in the city, I was terrified to have sex with any of them.

It seemed like the only thing I could do, was try to have the time of my life in that moment, and to be as safe as possible.

After I had established myself as a club kid, I remember going to Sound Factory where Junior Vasquez was the DJ.  It was a massive open square space with bleachers on one side and a giant disco ball in the middle.  After all the other clubs closed, the people who worked in them would go home, freshen up and then head to Factory for after hours dancing.

Junior would build people up with the music earlier in the night and into the morning hours.  The crowd was incredibly sexy.  The male go-go dancers were the most stunning examples of New York beauty.  Each dancer was perched on the various speaker stacks surrounding the dance floor, wearing only white towels and red spot lights.

The crowd was predominately Black and Latin at that time.  The music and the tonality of the crowd would shift over the coming years, so I am glad I got to experience the earlier incarnation.

The music Junior was spinning in the early days of Factory, was the deepest I had ever heard.  It soaked into your muscles, and there was no way you could not dance.  

There were still a lot of vocals in the music at that time, and there was no auto tune.  The singers really sang and had distinctive voices. You could also hear real instrumentation in the tracks, and often live drummers and musicians would play along over the set being pumped from the DJ booth.  It was a transcendental experience.  

Within the Gatien clubs, where I worked, there was a distinct hierarchy, complete with VIP areas.  It was territorial. There were different areas for different crowds. 

The Club Kid’s didn’t really mix with the muscle queens, for instance.  We each had our own sections of the club, and then there was the main dance floor, where people would dip in and out throughout the night, mixing with the filler crowd.

At Sound Factory, the playing field was completely even.  No one was given special treatment, and everyone paid to get in. There was no guest list.  There weren’t separate lounges, it was just one big space with a giant dance floor.  

Junior really took you on a journey.  He would go high and low, fast and slow, and there was a tremendous sonic dimension to his sets.  There was space to move around inside the music.  It was narrative.  He was articulating the story of our reality at that time.

As we moved towards the morning, the sounds would build and surge.

Then there would be a point when he would completely stop the music and the whole club would go black.  Everyone stood in silence, and I noticed that a number of people often got down on their hands and knees and began to weep. 

We all knew what the silence was for.  It was to acknowledge all the people from our community who had passed, who were struggling and were continuing to die from AIDS.  It was to mark that within this one silent moment, we were all still very much alive. 

The silence seemed like it would never end.

Then a tiny white pin spot would slice through the black air, and shatter into a million beams of light.  Off the mirrored skin of the giant disco ball, a sea of stars cascaded around the entire room.

From the absence of sound, a whisper acapella track of “Make It Happen” by Mariah Carey would emerge. Triumphant horns would rise up through the escalating vocal, and a burst of colored lights would throb down onto our skin.

Out of the sorrow came ecstasy.  Out of darkness, came light.

Those type of moments at Sound Factory is what the early 90′s and New York City was all about in my mind.  We were all terrified for our lives, so we dressed up, threw parties and did shows.  We danced as if our life depended on it, because, in a sense, it did.

Here is a link to that Mariah Carey remix:

I remember one night at Factory, I headed to the water fountain after dancing for a long period.  I was really high on acid, which was a popular drug at that party.  After grabbing some water I turned around and there was this tiny freaky lady staring up at me.  It was Cyndi Lauper.  She had followed me to the water fountain to stop and tell me how amazing I looked.

She so sweet and complimentary, but I was tripping so hard, that I was unable to have a proper conversation with her.  I graciously thanked her and rushed back to the protection of the dance floor.

I crossed paths with a lot of amazing people back in the day.  I’ve always been a little dismissive of celebrities.  Some of that was shyness, some of it was arrogance, and some of it was just living in New York. 

I was interested in artists and good energy.  I didn’t, and still don’t, care if is comes in a celebrity package.  Cyndi did seem very cool and very sincere, and I wish I had spent some more time talking with her.  

In retrospect, there are so many situations that I dismissed or took for granted.  Half the time, I didn’t even realize how amazing the people really were, that were around me, or I thought they would always be around and I could catch up with them some other time. 

Leigh Bowery was one of those.  He was around quite a bit, and I never invested any energy in getting to know him or talk to him.  I thought he was incredibly talented, and still do, but a number of the Club Kids, including Michael, heavily referenced him.  So kinda like clown makeup and white face, I stayed away.  I wanted to find my own thing, and it wasn’t about big drag or cumbersome costumes.

But that is something I regret.  I missed out on getting to know a great artist.

On another night, after taking mushrooms, I headed over to Palladium.  It was quite cold out and I was wearing a black marabou feather jacket, fishnets, hot shorts and suede platform shoes.  I still had my antennae hair.  I must have looked like a giant black moth.

As I approached the velvet ropes after getting out of the taxi, a beautiful and funky black lady was leaving the club.  She saw me headed towards the entrance, and stood there staring in amazement. 

She rushed up to me before I could get to the rope and put her arms around me in a tight embrace.  She stared into my eyes, and she said “Do you know how beautiful you are?  Can you see it? Can you see it? Do you know how beautiful you are? Do you realize?!!”

This was still my early days as a Club Kid, so I wasn’t used to being acknowledged or getting compliments.  I was still earning my keep and trying to figure out what my angle on all of this was.

This woman seemed very familiar and possibly famous, but the mushrooms had kicked in and I was so surprised by her approach and what she was saying to me, so passionately, that I couldn’t pin point who she was.  

I thanked her, wished her a good night, and walked into the club.  I then realized it was Nona Hendryx from the band LaBelle.  Wow, how amazing was that?

She had come to me like a mother spirit, encouraging me to fly...higher and further, than even I could imagine.

I was, in fact, breaking through, and finding my way.


March, 2018.