In the mid 1980's after legal bars in the East Village had closed at four thirty in the morning, I would frequently head out to the after hours clubs.
The East Village at that time was a pretty lawless place, and there were absolutely no shortage of illegal bars where you could drink, drug or dance until the sun rose high in the sky the next morning. Efficient markets favour the adept provider of services, and some of these places like "Little Lil's" were sexually oriented, so if you'd struck out with the ladies that night you could have a few drinks and knock boots with a young working girl before heading home for the night.
In my quest for experiences I hit every sleazy after hours bar that was operating in Lower Manhattan at that time and I generally had a ball. Sometimes I think of those days as an almost perfect exercise in American style capitalistic freedom, considering what has happened to New York City since I've left.
Even though I should have known better, there was no after hours bar that I liked better than The Sin Club, which was on East Third Street just off Avenue C.
The Sin Club had a very heavy drug scene going but I wasn’t into the drugs. It was more the anticipation; the sense that pretty much anything could happen there that attracted me. The very air in that place was dense with the possibility for something happening, something extreme.
Back in those days Sunday night was the best evening to go out in the East Village. All the folks with regular Monday through Friday jobs did most of their drinking and carousing Fridays and Saturdays, and the people that worked the bars got their first chance of the week to have fun on Sunday nights. Needless to say, Sunday nights were wild.
They were determined to have a grand old time of it, and tried to stretch out their evening as much as possible. Hence the demand for places to drink all night long.
As Monday morning approached the scene at The Sin Club just got crazier and crazier. There were genuinely certifiable nuts hanging out there on a Monday morning, myself included.
But the very air of possibility that attracted me to The Sin Club allowed something to happen, something that was even some twenty years later I still think was royally fucked up, and that event was the reason I stopped hanging out there.
My last night at The Sin Club started out much like any other: gal-pal and I had been out at The Aztec Lounge, CBGB's and Pyramid for booze, bands and dancing in that order. I briefly headed home to drop off the babe (she had to work the next day), and then set out for the after hours clubs.
I knew where I was going, and arrived at The Sin Club at about 5AM. The door guys knew me since I'd been going there for maybe four years, so I didn't get too much hassle and quickly found my way to the back room.
Like always the sound was driven and intense and harshly cool; "Three Dog Night" was playing and I still remember the lyrics to the tune "Want some whiskey in your water / Sugar in your tea / What are all these crazy questions they be asking me? / This is the craziest party there could ever be / Don't turn on the lights 'cause I don't want to see..."
The owner, Wild, had a shrewd business sense, running a dance floor in the back room and dealing drugs to the patrons who were thus inclined. Wild didn’t care what drugs you did as long as you bought your stuff from him. Like I said, he was a shrewd businessman.
I was hanging out with a group of folks from the neighbourhood, talking with this winsome blonde that had showed a few times at my gallery. We were getting on pretty well when this little tussle breaks out on the dance floor.
A skinny hippy type dude with long dark hair was getting all hands on with some babe who was clearly having no part of it. They were maybe four feet away and even though I couldn't hear the words their body language spoke volumes; he wanted her to leave and she wanted absolutely nothing to fucking do with him.
She pushed him away with a loud "FUCK OFF!" when he whips out this HUGE FUCKING MACHETE and brushes it harshly against her left cheek.
The girl – naturally – fucking freaked out, and raised her left arm to ward off his next blow. He solidly chopped into her forearm all the while screaming obscenities.
The girl falls to the ground screaming, and he's ranting and raving all the while. I couldn't understand a fucking word he was saying.
People around us are fucking freaking out, and the DJ notices. He drops the music, as the house lights flare up and this babe sitting across the table across from me springs up from her seat and applies her scarf as a crude tourniquet to the girls arm. I did the same with my leather jacket to her cheek, trying to calm her down and all the while that idiot is still ranting and raving but we both keep the pressure on the wounds as the crowd spreads out. There was a shitload of blood on the floor and us, and while it was still spurting from the girls wounds it seemed to be slowing down.
I look up and see the asshole with the machete who looks like he's getting ready to chop into the back of the gal who was tending to the babes arm wound.
You know I must have looked at that jerk with the machete for just one second, but that was the longest second in my life. I tried to warn the crouching girl opposite me, but all that came out was a guttural croak.
And then behind him I see Wild with a shotgun in one arm, rushing towards us and shoving the crowd out of his way with his other arm.
He gets right behind the fuck, puts the shotgun behind his head and screamed out in this authoritative voice "THAT'S A SHOTGUN BEHIND YOUR EAR MOTHERFUCKER!!"
The guy turns, laughs then raises his arm to take a swing at Wild with the machete.
Wild never hesitated, pulling the trigger on the shotgun with it positioned roughly under the guys chin and maybe one foot away.
When I was a kid growing up in the country I messed around with shotguns a fair amount, and I can tell you that they are fearsome weapons. If you've loaded them with the right type of ammo, they'll bring down a deer with just one shot; incredibly powerful guns, and not to be underestimated or trifled with.
The guy's head just evaporated – one second it was there and then it was gone. His body jerked and twitched for maybe two seconds before it fell in a crumpled heap to the ground. It was like something out of a George Romero horror film but I can tell you that this is the way it really happens. Death is not clean and immediate like most family oriented movies would have you believe. After the body hit the ground the legs kept twitching.
There was hair and shit and blood all over us and on the wall behind us. It was the most bizarre and disgusting thing I'd ever witnessed and I was absolutely frozen.
Needless to say, people were in an outright panic, crying and screaming and generally freaking out, like most folks will do in these harsh situations.
And I'll be damned if maybe one minute later a couple of Wild's guys don't show up with a fucking body bag. Like they'd done this before and come to think about it, maybe they had. I mean, what kind of bar keeps body bags in the back room? And where do you get them from? I don't believe for one second that your beer distributor will supply body bags if you asked them.
Still crouched down and applying pressure to the injured girl's cheek, I was frozen while they zipped the messy son of a bitch up in the bag. And then I had this brief second of clarity, where I thought to myself "You know, it may not be in my best interests to be spending so much time with these folks".
Wild took me to the bathroom and helped me get cleaned up, a job that took about thirty minutes since I was fucking caked in blood and even had some hair on me. When I came out the place was pretty much empty and the injured girl was gone.
Wild and I had known each other for perhaps four years, and he knew I was tight so there were no warnings from him, just a "Ahm not gonna open for while now mon" as he walked me to the door.
I told him I understood, to stay safe and I stepped outside into the bright morning sun.
It was about seven AM when I left the Sin Club for the last time. I lived south of Houston Street, and as I headed home to my cat and my sleeping girlfriend I found myself humming the tune "Mama told me not to come. She said 'That ain't the way to have fun son, that ain't the way to have fun, NO UH UHH'".
Over and over and over again.