Three thirty in the morning again…it’s officially a pattern. I’ve been waking up early every few days for a month now. At least back in my Manhattan days, I could just get dressed, go out and catch a cab someplace at three AM. Of course, in Manhattan, I would’ve never been asleep yet at this hour. These were the Irving Plaza days of the 1980’s. I’d be working right now.
Irving Plaza would still be open to the public for another hour and we wouldn’t ‘prove out’…count the take and pay the band and staff, not to mention clean up, till six. Since I’d usually get to work between noon and three, that meant three days of shows at around fifteen to eighteen hours each, or a forty or fifty hour work weekend. Add the Monday to Wednesday ten to six day shifts and you’re floating around eighty hours total. Jesus, it’s taken me twenty six years to add up those numbers…no wonder I was too exhausted try it again when they finally locked me out.
There’s an article still floating around the web from the New York Times written in 1987 about Irving closing for lack of rent. I saw it a couple weeks ago when I was researching some old bands that played there during my ownership. In it, Jon Parales quotes me as saying something like, I’d put everything I had into it and was just too exhausted to keep going. For the life of me, I can’t remember talking to him; I don’t doubt I did, but I guess I was really too tired to remember much.
The State had raised the drinking age from eighteen to twenty one seven months before, killing two thirds of my college oriented alternative audience and putting me out of business. I thought about re-vamping in a smaller place for an older crowd, but I just couldn’t face the thought of it. I really was just too exhausted to try again.
I do remember putting the chain through the front door handles for the last time, locking the padlock and walking over to my car, a 1986 Turbo 900 Saab, where my two best friends, Steve Peloquin and Davie Feldman, sat waiting. All our bags were packed and stuffed in the trunk and we drove out the Lincoln Tunnel to start a weeks-long road trip. They were worried about my sanity, I think; they wanted me out of the City and under their guard for awhile so I didn’t do anything stupid. It wasn’t my best time and they probably did save my life. Thanks, guys.
They had limited time- first Steve got off and flew home, then later I dropped Dave off at Ronald Reagan Airport in Southern California and drove around alone for awhile. By that point we’d been stuck in a little car together for several weeks and I think Dave was about ready for me to kill myself and save him the trouble. I was pretty bummed out and not the best traveling companion.
I remember driving up to Las Vegas just as darkness was falling, but after a few days of driving around in the desert, it looked like such a light-stain on the land that I drove right on through it and into the darkness on the other side. Shame too…a girl I knew in California had set me up to stay with her friend there for a few days, but at that point the last thing I needed was another woman. Or maybe it was exactly what I needed, who knows.
I was twenty seven years old and had been in some sort of business…school busses, theatrical lighting, the club…for ten straight years, ever since a month after I graduated from high school. I didn’t know it yet, but soon I’d be spending another year fighting the New York State Sales Tax Commission over one million dollars in taxes they said I owed them, like I’d have gone out of business if I was making enough to owe a million dollars in taxes. I fought em alone, with no lawyers or accountants.
In the end, eleven months later, I was sitting in some government office out on Long Island, facing thirteen tax agents…they were ready to strike a deal. They were all on one side of this long conference table; I was alone on my side.
“Are you sure you don’t want a lawyer or an accountant with you?” one woman asked. She actually seemed concerned. They were all pretty nice, by the way.
“Are you kidding?”, I replied, “Lawyers and accountants are what got me here in the first place.” I could see something odd in their stares as they all looked back at me silently.
“You’re all lawyers and accountants, aren’t you.”, It was a statement, not a question. As one person, they nodded. I slowly leaned forward till my forehead gently bumped on the table. What a good way to start a meeting. I sighed the sigh of a condemned man.
We talked. I explained that if I owed them a million dollars at 8.25% , that meant I’d be pulling down eight and a quarter mil. Gross. After figuring costs, I’d be netting about six or seven million, yet I went bankrupt because I owed the fucking Polish Army Veterans Association seven thousand dollars in rent. The numbers, even for them, weren’t adding up. Then it got strange.
One asked, “If we told you that you owed us a half million dollars, what would you do?”
“Go to prison.” I replied, “I don’t have it and anyway, I don’t owe it to you.”
A second or two of silence. Another asked, “If we said it was a hundred thousand dollars?”
A third, “How about ten thousand?”
“It’s better,” I admitted, “But I still don’t owe you anything.”
The nice lady then said, “What if we could settle this, right now, for one thousand, two hundred dollars?”
I looked at them, “You mean, if I write you a check for twelve hundred dollars right now, I can just go home and never hear from you guys again?”
“Yes.”, That was all she said.
As the expression goes, I’m dumb, but not an idiot. I realized they had to get something; after eleven months of thirteen highly paid accountants and lawyers all billing hours. They had to at least be able to score a win, however small the actual take.
“Done.”, I replied, pulling out my checkbook. I really didn’t owe them anything, but if I could make them go away after spending a year of my young life fighting this for twelve hundred bucks, it was worth it. I gave them the check, they gave me a piece of paper saying we were square and I left.
Twenty some odd years later I can still remember walking across their parking lot to my Saab. It was a nice, warm, sunny day. I’d successfully negotiated down a million dollars debt to twelve hundred, all by myself. I wasn’t elated or anything-after all, I’d just lost twelve hundred bucks-but I was…relieved? Satisfied? I don’t know, something approaching feeling good. By admitting defeat, I’d won.
It was the only bright spot in what would end up being a three year long bout of depression. Ten years of being a winner, and here I was, just another of New York City’s many losers. It’s not something you get over right away.
(Posted at 5:00AM, California time)