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I was 20 years young when I fell witness to a very naughty Jennifer Jason Leigh getting a foot massage from a stranger after descending into a subterranean S&M club.

All these years I was certain that Single White Female was filmed at New York’s notorious sex club, The Vault. I was not quite right. The Internet (more specifically, Jeremiah) corrects me, as I research it’s salacious story. The Vault opened in 1984 in the basement at 675 Hudson Street. After some success, it moved to 28 10th Ave. Club Hellfire took over the space on Hudson Street. Disappointingly, only the street part of the scene was shot at 675 Hudson, and the interior elements were filmed in a Hollywood studio.

Frank Cooke and Janet Carpenter, a married couple founded the business. She was an ex-banker, solid and fearless. He was an ex-bus driver skilled at carpentry. He would build the various binding contraptions and sexual apparatus that would not only inspire years of spreading and spanking, but ultimately cost New York State a mint.

Janet had the wonderfully warped idea to dress a mannequin in head to toe leather, hang it out the window and illuminate the thing. As you might imagine, the police were called by neighbors thinking they were responding to a suicide.

There were four floors and a basement, each with its own target market. One floor was for couples, one for the gay boys (dubbed the Cell Block), one for the ladies who love ladies and another for straight singles. My personal favorite was the basement, otherwise known as “the Dungeon.”

I was 24 when I went to The Vault on a date. A gentleman named Jared took me there because I am an elegant lady. He paid a hundred at the door for the two of us. There was a steady stream of people going in. Imagine a car accident and subsequent traffic jam; we struggled to pass through because of all of the rubbernecking. But Jared was chivalrous. He was my guide and he held me close.

We began in the basement. The red lights were dim and the walls and ceiling painted black. There were a lot of people, mostly men, masturbating. Mounted TV’s played pornos on a loop. A tall, sinewy man in a tattered pink nightie and full face of make up locked eyes with me and gazed in my direction for the duration of my dabble in the dungeon. He began following us at a distance. Every so often I would look back to see if he was still there. Indeed, he was. Each time I looked at him he’d flap his arms like a bird, tilt his head back and open his mouth wide. “He forgot to put pants on,” I told Jared as I pulled him closer. There was security-a-plenty so I wasn’t frightened so much as I was disturbed.

In the dungeon there were several human sized cages. The biggest of them was in the middle of the room, being dominated by a large muscular man masturbating in his extremely oily birthday suit and Air Jordan’s sans socks. With his ample afro and a menacing manhood, he stroked ceaselessly well beyond dawn. I was spellbound; Who are you, Sir, what is your day job… and what, pray tell, do you tell your colleagues when they inquire about your weekend.

Jared and I found a bar in the couple’s lair. There was no booze for sale but there was a wide variety of Arizona Iced Tea to choose from. Lucky for me, Jared was stealth in his schmoozing and soon we were served some Jack Daniel’s Sour Mash and soda, courtesy of the staff’s own secret supply.

I observed from my barstool a short, stout man on a sad old sofa, ass in the air, receiving a lackadaisical jump rope type whipping from his short, stout spouse. Also on the menu was a romantic duo tenderly sharing a grapefruit, after he peeled a hole and ejaculated in it.

Jared and I didn’t last long, but The VauIt stayed strong, attracting a massive following of freaks and fetishists. There were goths and vampire geeks, tickle torturers and diaper enthusiasts. There were people that wore nothing but leashes and crawled around on the floor. Ponder for a moment, the filth on that floor.

Management was enthusiastic. They sponsored slave auctions, toe sucking summits, hot wax sports, uniform night, boobie contests and during Christmas they even put Leather Claus on the payroll.

Madonna was one of the first celebrity patrons. she wore track pants and baseball caps. She gravitated mostly to the homosexual sections and enjoyed watching girls and playful Latino boys fool around. She arranged a photo shoot there for her Sex book. In addition, she filmed the video for Erotica there and then mentioned it on Arsenio Hall. This was the definitive point in which the club spiraled into the mainstream.

Soon The Vault’s celebrity cameos were abundant. Sharon Stone arrived in casual attire with a couple of friends and spent the evening watching girls torture each other. The actress that played Jan on the Brady Bunch showed up once with two queens in full drag and expressed concern for a monkey that was in attendance. Joey Buttafucco rolled up in a white limousine and Lilo Brancato came in often and bullied the transvestites. He even went so far as to beat one over the head with a fire extinguisher. Elle Macpherson frequented having once brought David Lee Roth. Claus Von Bulow cheered on Tommy Lee as he tied up Pamela and another broad and continued to whip and fondle their boobies. One night Pam and Tommy brought Slash who then became a regular. Heather Locklear was aloof as a pair of foot fetishists groveled around her barstool. Claudia Schiffer and David Copperfield brought their realtor with them. Roseanne Barr was asked to leave for mocking people and jokingly ordering her bouncer to whip randoms’ asses for her amusement.

According to Anthony Marini, the General Manager, Al Pacino attended often, under the guise of ‘preparing for a role as an undercover homicide investigator on the trail of a sadistic psychopath’. Marini explained that Al became, “deeply involved in his research.” Today I combed imdb.com to sort out which movie Al was researching and, indeed, there is a film that fits this puzzle. The film is entitled Cruising, and here is the description; “A police detective goes undercover in the sleazy and underground gay subculture of New York City to catch a serial killer, who is murdering numerous gay men with S&M tactics.” The interesting thing here, is that Cruising was released in 1980, four years before The Vault materialized.

Another celebrity scandal included Bob Dole’s political advisor Roger Stone. Some club personnel apparently provided some tangible evidence to The ENQUIRER exposing Stone and his wife as solicitous swingers, including a hand written note and a series of sordid snapshots.

Other regulars included Harrison Ford, Iggy Pop, Robert Downey Jr., John Wayne Bobbitt, Corey Feldman, Naomi Campbell and Mickey Rourke, who was bounced for belligerence.

At some point, Carpenter and Cooke turned to organized crime for help as they struggled to repay a loan they had taken from a wily motorcycle gang. This resulted in a split ownership with Anthony Rotundo, a capo in the DeCavalcante family and a couple of his cohorts. (The Sopranos were thought to have been inspired by the DeCavalcantes.)

In 1996 Mayor Giuliani shut it down for violating public health laws, but a judge deemed it safe shortly after and it reopened. However, the New York State Department of Transportation was beginning its expansion of West Street, which involved putting in six lanes and some peripheral parking.

Condemnation laws demanded full compensation for the take, so the State prepared to purchase the permanent fixtures as part of its relocation deal. Things like light fixtures, sinks, a subpar sound system, TVs, bar paraphernalia and refrigerated coolers. The more colorful items; things like St. Andrews crosses, gynecological chairs, cages, spectator platforms, hitching posts, kneeling horses, leather slings and shackles, which had been constructed from crap scrap and weren’t worth much, needed to be welded to walls and floors in order for them to be rendered permanent. The appraisal produced 579 separate items estimating a total of a hilarious $1.8 Million. And one can only assume the State was in a hurry to finish the project, so they settled… claiming it was a tiny fraction of the $104 million they spent acquiring three and a half city blocks of properties.

Interestingly, amongst the items was an actual twin seater electric chair, built for the purpose of tittilating nipples and genitals and such, donated by art dealer Andrew Crispo, who himself had been arrested for kidnapping and torture in 1988.

More interestingly, a nurse who moonlighted as an S&M aficionado, called Marini to let him know of St. Vincent’s disposal of an examining chair and from what such sidewalk he could scoop it.

Carpenter and Cooke had moved on, but the others tried to revive the club at 12th Avenue and West 23rd Street, but as you might predict, it failed after a couple of years.

This tale of the Vault is a great New York story. I’m confident in the idea that the one common characteristic of all New Yorkers is an unbridled affection for the mysterious. It wasn’t specifically sex that made The Vault irresistible. It was an unconventional thing to do with a Saturday night, and its risky location made it that much more magnetic. It was the opposite of boring. I believe the lot of us moved to New York to avoid all things beige and banal. The Vault’s is a story of corruption and greed loaded with lunatics and perverse anecdotes. But most of all, it is a story of change, which is what New York does best.

Deanna Kirk

Fall of ’92, I flew from San Francisco to Newark. After a most dehydrating flight, a silvery beast of a bus shuttled me to Grand Central Station. Then, I busted my taxi cab hymen en route to my first college dorm called Marlton House. I dragged my schlep into the world’s slowest elevator and waited a year for it to arrive at the seventh floor. I found my room and pushed open an orange door heavier than a busload of bowling balls.

A twin bed, a desk, and a chest of drawers, none of them flush with any of its four feculentastic walls. My new home was so compact that in this unfortunately furnished riddle of horror, there was nowhere for the luggage of a lost little girl, except atop a dank mattress.

Marlton House is at 5 West 8th Street. It was built in 1900 and was basically cheap single room lodging for struggling artists, poets and transients. Poached by the New School in ’87, it was the hip haps for Beatnik types. Wikipedia told me that Lenny Bruce stayed there during his infamous sixth month trial for obscenity. To which he argued:

“…that to is a preposition, and come is a verb, that the sexual context of come is so common that it bears no weight,,, and that if someone hearing it becomes upset, he or she probably can’t come.”

Lenny was lucky to have lived during an age when the word come wasn’t alternatively used as cum in reference to ejaculation or orgasm. Even in my horniest hour, I despise the order of those three letters. Don’t ever type or text that mess to me.

(But I do love Lenny Bruce.)

My new home was one block from the entrance to Washington Square Park and a spit’s distance to MacDougal Street. The lobby was petite. A stairwell, an elevator and a tiny front desk with small numbered mail cubbies were all jammed into 500 square feet or so.

I can only assume the school didn’t do much to rid the building of its residual inhabitants. I estimate there were two “original” residents average per floor. Doesn’t seem daunting? Consider this. We shared toilet seats and showers with these creatures.

Don’t forget we are talking about New York City here. As glamorous as you want it to be is about how god damn dirty it is.

Since I signed up for housing late, I was placed on a waiting list and received the only available and least desirable room. This was the smallest (literally), and biggest (figuratively), craphole in the crapheap.

Shrouded in scaffolding, it was moody and menacing. It felt damp and dejected, weepy and wilted. It was kind of brownish and maroon all over. The elevator smacked gothic insane asylum. My room was number 709. It was easy to remember because it took approximately seven hundred and nine seconds for the elevator to get me there and right about the same number of sobs to get me to sleep.

709 smelled like my brother’s sweat socks as if he had wiped his ass with them after pooping in the grass during a long distance run on the hottest day of the year. After several nights in this place I’ve just described, and having made no friends to speak of I decided to slip the fuck out. I descended the cold marble stairs while sparring with my inner crybaby.

I know it must seem like I was very spoiled, because I was. And as it turns out, this would turn out to be one of the better living situations of my life in New York City… considering all possible variables. But… you know… I was young and lame. So please, allow me a few more paragraphs of drivel before you administer any real lasting judgment.

There was a public phone on every floor of the dorm. I would soon learn there would always be some fucker on each of them. Anyone I witnessed talking on any of those phones, I immediately and vehemently despised. I generally hate anyone in my way, but this was an extraordinary variety of contempt, particularly if I returned 30 to 45 minutes later to see the same individual enjoying the same conversation.

I saw a purple Post-it next to the sixth floor phone that read: “Peter, we are in the Village at Cafe Rafaella. – Martin.”

As I walked, I pondered the purple missive. I had heard of this Greenwich Village. I wanted to see it. Manhattan is narrow. How far off could I find myself? I wanted to accidentally stumble upon them.

I fantasized that Martin was a tall dark number with big hands and that his friend Peter was a European version of the gorgeous garbage-hauling boyfriend that I left back in Walnut Creek. And as I walked, I imagined the three of us chewing on espressos. I would behave as my very astute mother had advised me, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” (That meant I would smoke unfiltered cigarettes and put out almost immediately.)

I would be Catherine in a modern day Jules et Jim. And my terrible dorm room wouldn’t matter because we’d be in chic cafes all year. Then one night, right before summer break we would have a fantastic threesome in which I was the star. We’d share a hookah pipe afterward, giggle ourselves to sleep in a naked triangle flanked with a hodgepodge of pillows and not even one of us would be ashamed of our perilous pubic hair.

I walked way beyond my comfort zone. I kept thinking along St. Mark’s Place that I should turn back, but there was no phone or TV in 709. It was dark, late, hot and humid. I kept on until I reached Avenue A which I didn’t recognize until I realized the shadowy park that frightened me, would be one Tompkins Square.

All around me people in drab clothing droned and smoked… each and every one of them with a mess of things hanging from them. Beads, chains, scarves, dreads, drool. It was like the Halloween apocalypse. My need to squirt caught up with my hunger so I ended up at some dump where I read a Village Voice over a pile of salty Vegetable Don and warm beer.

(I have a very gastronomically complicated relationship with beer.)

For a change of scenery, I decided to walk back on E. 7th St. I was having a behemoth carbohydrate hangover. Sluggish and gassy, I passed a black unmarked door with the coolest music happening behind it. I walked on a bit, but couldn’t let go of that music, so I turned back. As I opened the door, a grenade of cigarette smoke slapped me across the face.

The music was marvelous and the room was small. A jazz quartet struggled to conform to a corner. There was a Steinway, a stand up bass, a saxophonist and a bearded bad ass on a snare drum. The music was so loud that no one could speak and so divine that no one would. Everyone sucked on cigarettes. There was a bar to my left and some tables to my right and not a single empty seat. I stood against the bar until I saw one. The ceiling was low and stained brown and yellow, the walls lined with dark purple curtains. This was the most important place in the world.

I only had ten dollars so I sat down and drank a glass of offensive red wine. I presume an hour, maybe two, had passed. I began crushing on the bassist. He had longish hair that was real, real dirty. His eyes were closed mostly. When he finally opened them they landed on my brand new pink Vans.

I had to go, because my Vans were so stupid.

I farted my way back across town… to my extraordinary new home in Greenwich Village.

_______________________________________________________________________________

This was a stupid fucking story about a special moment in New York’s jazz history.

(I can’t believe you actually read it.)

For five gorgeous years, seven nights a week, there was Deanna’s. It was just exactly, specifically what every proprietor of every stupid speakeasy or “indie” venue is currently trying to pull. But Deanna didn’t try… It was just good.

So good.

Deanna Kirk is a legendary vocalist and pianist from Long Island. She was discovered at the Bolshoi Ballet in the late 1980’s by some British entrepreneur types who helped her realize her very own club in New York’s East Village.

Her first recorded album was live and entitled Live at Deanna’s. (I can’t believe I don’t own it. After I publish this post I will be sniffing around the internet for it.) She is not just a performer, but also a writer. Her studio albums, entitled Marianna Trench and Where Are You Now, received messes of positive press and acclaim.

Tragically, the venue of my dreams burned to bits and Deanna was left to salvage her memoirs.

If these images don’t make you desperate to visit Japan, then I can’t help you.

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One afternoon in April of 2004, a totally awesome gay couple got nearly naked and climbed 35 feet up a pine tree in Central Park, entertained hundreds of passersby and put a bunch of government bitches to WORK. Just north of Wollman Rink next to the Chess and Checkers House, one wore a black thong and the other, boxer shorts. It was in this tree they remained until sundown… professing their love by giving each other oral sex and enjoying soft drinks.

The New York Times reported that the older one, aged 32, had “feminine breasts” and shouted threats at rescue workers demanding a can of Vanilla Diet Pepsi. The other was but 17, quiet and despondent that his family had not accepted his relationship.

At one point a police officer made a motion toward the elder soda connoisseur and he reacted, screaming, “I want to talk to my mother!” and shimmying even higher up the tree. He threatened to jump, and even took his underwear off and threw it at an officer who caught it. He ripped tree branches off and whipped them around before dropping them. After about three hours of this, an officer came back from a bodega with a can of soda for him. He threw that shit on ground and shouted: ”That is a Coke. I wanted Vanilla Diet Pepsi!!”

This deeply romantic story ends with the two finally surrendering well into the evening, at which time they were tossed into the Cornell Center for psychiatric evaluation.

When I moved into my third floor apartment at 40 Ludlow, I did that shit by myself. And its a good fucking thing I collected books. Once I was able to corral all of that crap inside, I locked the door behind me and left to go check the neighborhood. I needed a restaurant where I could rest my rump and thighs over a cocktail and then eat my face off. But first I needed a New York Post.

When I eat alone, I like to slobber over some Page Six.

There were a lot of 99 cent stores and a lot of laundromats around. An adorable elementary school, a funeral home, and a whole mess of dusty massage parlours.

At Canal and Ludlow I found a French African Brazilian bar/eatery thing called Les Enfants Terribles. This was it. I had found my lair. My deal closer. Shadowy, sexy and small, the bar wrapped all the way around to make a rectangle. The low hanging lamps over the bar were dim and reflected on the copper bar, on the gilded ceiling, and in the floor to ceiling windows. I gave up trying to wrap my mind around the music; world music, hip hop, forgotten 80’s new wave layered with house, and even some Mowtown.

I ordered a cocktail with vodka, a bunch of sugar and smooshed up green grapes. I drank four or five of those before ordering mussels and some Moqueca, a seafood-coconut-milk stew, which was just jammed with shrimp and came with a steaming bowl of white rice. The bartenders were deliciously dismissive and and a perfect D.J. dude with salt and pepper dreadlocks served up some Snoop Dogg and Shirelles. My only gripe was the octagonal shaped bar stool my ass was swallowing. I had to keep standing up and twisting my seat a shade to distribute the the pain and possibility of a puncture wound.

I ate enough food for two of those asses. I burped my way back to 40 Ludlow, up those three flights and slipped into a coma on my old mattress and new floor.

I didn’t go to Les Enfants Terribles every night thereafter.

I went almost every night.

Once I worked in a cube opposite an insufferable music buff. He went on about every kind of music. Even Christian shit. It was 2004 and I didn’t drive or listen to the radio so I relied on other people’s recommendations. He often barfed out a barrage of band names, but before I got bored of listening, he had already schooled me on the magic of Magnetic Fields, touting their album 69 Love Songs… which is actually, a collection of 69 love songs.

I had to have these 69 Love Songs. I bought them at Virgin on Union Square. I put them on my desk. I liked the way they looked on my desk, so those love songs lived there for a long while.

I went to a bar on East 14th Street called Nowhere. I went to a lot of bars. But this one I remember because only like one fiftieth of the bars I go to are gay ones, since I am only one fiftieth gay. I met my friend Monika there. She brought her main gay Michael, who is a little bit of a bitch. Monika and Michael knew everyone there because Michael had lived upstairs since the Summer of Sam.

I used the unisex toilet with the defective doorknob as soon as we arrived. Mid squirt, the bartender walked in on me. It wouldn’t have been so humiliating if it weren’t for the threadbare Playtex Powershaper hiked up around my waist. Back at the bar we chuckled and chortled about our very intimate encounter. He went back to work. Michael and Monika gossiped while I sucked on a Stinger. Then a shortish guy came up to me holding a shiny white binder chock full of tabs. The bartender introduced me to his friend Stephin. Stephin asked me how tall I was. I told him 5’6″. (If it were a straight bar I would have lied and said 5’7″ because, you know, all straight guys are completely shallow.)

He opened his shiny white binder. There were pages upon pages of name tags, MY NAME IS in red, and then mail merged with a spreadsheet of the names of celebrities and historical figures. The pages of these name tags were three hole punched and filed under tabs marked with the numbers of different human heights organized in ascending order, inch by inch. People peered over his shoulder to see what the binder was all about. Stephin chose “Napoleon” for me. Indifferently, he peeled it off and handed it to me hanging off of his pointer finger. “Here,” he said, and then turned away as if he were an unpaid intern at an event passing out actual nonfictional name tags.

Stephin’s next subjects were not as accommodating. Michael screamed, “OH MY GOD, what is this stupid mess??” He gestured wildly, “Stephin, you spend way too much time on the internet.”

Stephin’s reply was monotone, however his eye roll could be felt as far away as Central Park, “I do not spend too much time on the internet.”

My breasts were beasts and my Napoleon name tag boomed as I overheard Michael say to Monika, “He’s got some pretentious fucking band called Magnetic Fields.” Soon everyone except Michael had a name tag and Monday morning I finally broke open the cellophane and listened to a steady stream of love songs for the next several months. The music is brilliant to say the least. It is tender and painful… melodic and hypnotic… layered and lovesome.

Stephin suffers from a permanent condition called hyperacusis, which is basically over-sensitivity to loud frequency ranges. He talks and sings on the quiet side and when he performs live he wears earplugs to hear himself. He also plays the guitar, keyboard and ukelele. He wrote an off Broadway musical called “Coraline” which is based on a novel by Neil Gaiman. He also wrote the music for a the soundtrack of Pieces of April, a silent film, the score for some show on Nickelodeon, a jingle for a Volvo commercial, and various other musical theater productions.

He is a beautiful poet, and an all around artistic genius who is often misunderstood.

The most delicious of the world’s liquers is called Green Chartreuse and is made by Carthusian Monks. Basically, it is 132 herbal extracts aged in distilled alcohol. This deliciousness is named after the Monks’ Grande Chartreuse monastery, located in the Chartreuse Mountains,  in Grenoble, France.

Green Chartreuse is 110 proof (or 55%) and is naturally green from chlorophyll. Yellow Chartreuse is a different version that is sweeter, which makes it seem more syrupy and has less bite at 40% alcohol. The monks also make a Chartreuse VEP (Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé, meaning “exceptionally prolonged aging”). They are all made from a secret recipe but the VEP is aged extra long in the same type of oak casks.

I have had the VEP but it was a few years ago, and though I remember making sweet love to it, I can’t remember any of its specific characteristics, which is good because I probably can’t afford to have an ongoing affair with it. So lucky for me, Green Chartreuse is the sexiest lady in the world. Like a beautiful lover, one tiny taste burns both your brain and your belly. It is a fantastic conversation piece at any bar that carries it, as you must taste it, once you start discussing it. The best thing about it is that offends some. I brought a bottle of it to my brother’s house one night. He was (and always is) a cowboy, obliged me in tasting it and then sent the remainder of the bottle home with me and I quote him; “Please take your Death Elixir with you.”

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