Monday, May 29, 2006

1985

Once Upon a Time...

My buddy Phil was on staff at Saturday Night Live. I would, on occasion, drive to the City to visit him.

On one such visit he was given an engraved invitation. He, and a guest, were invited to the Michael Todd Room at the Palladium for a special performance. Free admission.

So cool.

Today, where the Palladium stood, there's a dorm and athletic facilities for NYU. Up 'til the end of the 1970's, it was a theater. In 1985, it was one of the hottest nightclubs in New York. It had one of the first multi-array video screens, that dipped, twisted and rotated high above the huge dance floor. MTV had a regular broadcast from the Palladium. This was back when they actually played music on the channel.

And the dance floor was huge. It was big enough to drop a house onto. And they did. There was a full-sized house that would, on occasion, be lowered onto the dance floor.

Because they could, that's why.

And we had tickets to go there.

Well, Phil did. I got to tag along.

Normally, getting into the Palladium involved standing in a long line, waiting for hours while a burly bouncer decided who got to get in as patrons left. Yes, it was exactly like every nightclub scene in every teen movie Hollywood produced. The lucky ones then had the privilege of paying twenty bucks to get in.

But that was for mortals, for Phil and I would go to the back, and climb the stairs to the supersecret back entrance: the Micheal Todd Room!*

The Micheal Todd Room was once the production/projection room for the Palladium. It was painted white, with some garish, primitive green and blue paintings on the wall. We walked in, and sat at a table.

The waitress didn't recognize us, so she hated us. This was the coolest room in the coolest place in the coolest city on earth, and she had to serve two nobodies. So she hated us. I've never heard the words 'there's a two-drink minimum' uttered with such disdain. She also let us know that she couldn't be bothered to come back more than once, so we had to order our two drinks right away.

No problem. We got to skip the twenty-dollar cover, so this was no big deal.

"Four Labatt's," I said.

No Labatts, I was told.

"Molson?" I asked.

The only beer they had, I was informed, was Guiness and Amstel Light.

"Four Amstel Lights, then."

We watched the techies finish setting up the stage. Phil didn't know who the special performer was, but he did know that Paul Schaeffer and his band were backing them up.

The beers were unceremonially dumped onto our table.

I was a yokel. She knew it. She probably smelled it. But I wasn't going to let her attitude get to me. I could show her how cavalier I was. "I got this," I said magnanimously, pulling out a $20 and handing it to the waitress. "Keep the change."

She looked at the bill like it was used toilet paper. "It's $24," she sneered.

Oh. Somewhere in Yokelville cows mooed in laughter.

I pulled a ten out of my wallet and handed it to her. "Keep it," I said. It was obvious that she hadn't assumed otherwise, since she was already four steps away from us.

"Six bucks a bottle. For Amstel Light!" I said, perpetuating every yokel stereotype, "I can get a six pack of Amstel Light for less!"

Phil was sympathetic. "Shut up," he suggested helpfully.

The lights, already dim, dimmed farther. A spotlight gleamed off Paul Shaeffer's mirrored glasses, as well as his bald pate, as he introduced...

I'm not telling. I will tell you that she was a pop icon in the 1960's, and she was attempting a comeback. She wore a lime-green bodysuit that left nothing to the imagination.

Which was too bad, because imagination would have suited her better.

And then they started playing. It felt bad.

I wrote 'felt,' because it was so loud, it outstripped our capacity to hear it. It felt like whoever was mixing this thing said 'fuck it,' and turned all the knobs to 11. We stayed around for a while, absorbing more than our fair share of abuse, and I was thinking about leaving, but then we met up with these two young women. Well, actually Phil met up with them. How he actually was heard enough to get their attention is a miracle. My contributions to the conversation were along the lines of "hey," "cool," and "what?"

Phil brought them over to the table and introduced me to them. They both had names that were smells. "This is Jasmine, and this is Rose."

Hey.

"They're [Lime Green Former '60's Pop Icon's] personal assistants," Phil yelled.

Cool.

"We've been with her for about a year," Jasmine or Rose screamed, "She really wants to get back into the scene."

Phil and I nodded. "How's it going so far?" Phil bellowed.

"Not so good," Rose or Jasmine hollered, "this is her second try. The first time she performed she wet herself."

What?

"She peed," Rose or Jasmine shouted, "all over the stage."

Perhaps we should stay after all.

We hung around until we were both nearly exhausted by the aural onslaught, but then we left, to go out and experience the rest of the Palladium.**

If anyone had ever wanted to do an MTV version of The Divine Comedy, this would have been the place. The further down we would travel, the more bizzare things appeared.

We walked out of the Room, and onto what at one time would have been the upper balcony of the theatre. Now it was a lounge where various shapes writhed and intertwined, often in the rhythm of the music that was being blasted down onto the dancefloor. The music had a far-off, thunderous quality, sort of like being around the corner from a waterfall.

I had a very strong suspicion about what was going on in that balcony. I really wanted to look, but I really wanted to get out of there as well.

We went down another flight of stairs, and were on a lower balcony that stretched all around the the main dance floor. Here, people were drinking, some were dancing. The music, while loud, was at least well-mixed, so that there was a bit of separation between the highs and the lows. It was deafening, but it wasn't offensive.

We wandered through the mass of people, watching them dance and interact with each other. Being a geek, I gravitated towards the control room, trying to figure out what they were using to control the lights and the video. Phil had hooked up with another girl, and was dancing down on the main floor. I sipped my drink and watched people until I had to pee.

If this was the MTV version of The Divine Comedy, then the Michael Todd Room would have been the first circle, the upper balcony the second, et c. The bathrooms were certainly the lowest rings of hell.

I went down past the dance floor, and further down, past mezzanines, until I came to the women's room, and then another floor down was the men's room.

New York State laws require public buildings to have bathrooms labeled 'men's' and 'women's,' but these were apparently mere technicalities at the Palladium. I saw as many men going in and out of the Women's room as I saw women coming in and out of the men's room.

Remember how I've been calling myself a yokel? Here's why.

As I walked down the last flight of stairs, I heard a noise. Actually a combination of noises. More specifically, the combination of the same noise over and over again.

Here is the onomotopaea of that sound:
pffffffffffsssssssst!

And here's why I'm a yokel. As I heard that noise, I thought: Wow, they sure are using a lot of hairspray.

But they weren't using hairspray. No, not at all. Even though there were cans of the stuff on the counters next to the sinks, no one seemed to be using the hairspray. The noise was coming from the long row of toilet stalls. Each stall had three or four pairs of feet visible underneath. And each stall had one or two instances of the pffffffssssssst! sound coming from it.

It was a good thing that I didn't need to poop.

So I walked past the stalls, into a room with about 30 urinals in it, stretched along a wall. I chose one about 3/4 of the way down (I don't know why I went that far down; I seemed to be the only person who used the bathroom to go to the bathroom).

As I stood there, something moved at the edge of my perhipheral vision. I turned my head, and there was a young woman, leaning against the wall, looking at me pee.

I said, "Wanna dance?"

That seemed to surprise her. She smiled, shrugged, and said "sure."

"Mind if I finish?"

She didn't mind.

So, we went back upstairs and danced for a while. The encounter had enboldened me. I smiled. I even flirted with her. I bought her a drink and didn't even care about the 600% markup.***
We stood close and smiled. She leaned over and screamed intimately into my ear:

"Wanna do a line?"

I shyly hollered that I didn't have any coke.

She leaned in and bellowed "I have a friend...?"

But I told her that I didn't do cocaine, and, well, that was that. I danced with a few others, and eventually Phil and I met back up, and went out to another, quieter venue.

But it was a great adventure, a great night.

When I came back home, I called my friend Heather, and told her about the evening. Heather was my former roommate when I lived in North Carolina, a sweet-natured, no-nonsense girl from the Canadian Maritimes. I had a thing for her, she didn't have a thing for me, but we liked each other too much to have that be too much of an issue.

I recounted the evening, and finished it with the following line: "I couldn't believe it! I asked a girl to dance with my dick in my hands...and she said yes!"

Heather's response floored me: "What makes you think it was a girl?"

Whoa.

Good question.

This was, after all, New York City. There were transvestites there. Transvestites. Crossdressers. She-Males.

Was it really a girl that I asked?

I thought about it for a while. Probably a couple of days. Then I came to a conclusion: it didn't matter. If the person walked like a girl, talked like a girl, dressed, and acted like a girl, and I wasn't romantically or physically involved with the person, what did it matter?

Yeharr

*Micheal Todd, for those who don't know, was the film producer who created the craze for ultrawide-format films in the 1950's, such as Cinerama, which used a three-camera array, and then the "Todd-AO" format, which used only one camera, with a special, extremely wide film strip.

He also tapped Liz Taylor, back when that meant something.

**And what ever happened to Lime Green Jumpsuit Singer, you ask? She made it through the event, bladder controlled, released an album with modest critical and commercial success, and had a cameo appearance in one of 1986's most popular songs, where she reprised a verse from one of her most popular songs. In the music video, she wore a jumpsuit. But this one was black.

***OK, I cared a little. But I pretended I didn't care very well.

8 Comments:

Blogger dusty said...

I knew who Mike Todd was, and this was an interesting story pirate.
"Perhaps we should stay after all."-I smiled big on this line sir,let me tell you.

2:38 AM  
Blogger Colleen said...

yokels are hot

10:48 AM  
Blogger Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

In a yokely way...

1:33 PM  
Blogger Heidi the Hick said...

yeah! Not only do I love the fact that you ordered Canadian beer, I love your yokelness! That's been me so many times. hyuk hyuk, hey, lookit that eh.

I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out who popdiva comeback lady is.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Heidi the Hick said...

2 more things: No, it didn't matter. Not one bit.

and, I love my link name. Thanks!

2:55 PM  
Blogger Madame X said...

The Palladium...damn!
Never made it in but I was able to get into Studio 54 at the very end of the Disco Era.
Boy George was there, I got to dance with him...I also got to use the ladies room while he was in there...
I think I may know who Lime Green Jumpsuit is!!!

9:58 PM  
Blogger Guy Wonders said...

Great story. . . I also liked the yokelness of it all.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Rowena said...

I wish I'd been able to go the Palladium in 1985, but unfortunately I was only 12.

Please tell who Lime Green Jumpsuit was!! Not my Dusty Springfield I hope.

10:35 PM  

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