I didn’t know about the drugs. But I saw the girls, beautiful and fawned over, who used to sit in the big roomy booths. Once they left, I never saw them again. 2nd story in a NY series.
New York, New York, what a wonderful town! Theatres, museums, skyscrapers, financial centers, night life. . . The city itself is a celebrity. The song says, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” And I wanted to make it. Everything in New York seemed bigger and brighter—skyscrapers lighting up the sky, soaring toward the gleam of heaven.
But night comes fast in a city of towers, and bright lights slowly flicker out. When darkness descends, the city’s nocturnal life can turn to shadows of foreboding.
Especially when you get blindsided.
The National Broadcasting Company, (NBC), New York’s premier television station in the 1960s, had been my employer for about a year and a half. It wasn’t my dream job, just a starting position with first-class appeal and location—30 Rockefeller Center. I had an easy bus ride to work, and from work, on to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts where I attended acting school. Celebrity sightings were common at NBC, and really, that’s the reason this country bumpkin originally chose to work there.
However, restlessness and a desire to advance had steered me toward a possible career as an assistant casting director at a talent agency. In case the acting thing didn’t work out. Surprisingly, I was hired, but with a three week hiatus between jobs.
To celebrate, a friend took me to New York’s hottest, most trendy new restaurant and club where his father knew the owner. Immediately, I wanted to work there. I’d waitressed the summer before, my junior year at Marshall University, with a group of sorority sisters in Wildwood, New Jersey. So I had experience. My intent was simple: make some quick cash between jobs.
Aquarius, I’ll call the club, had gotten a smashing review in the New York Times and as luck would have it, the owner came to our table. When I brazenly asked him about a three-week job, he hired me on the spot. Unknown to me, and I hope to my friend, the owner was a half-crazed cocaine addict.
Aquarius was a great place to work: fast paced and lively. New York’s socialites and a few celebrities came and went. I received special treatment from the beginning: free drinks and no weekend schedule. I never gave it a thought since I had a connection to the owner, the other girls wanted to work weekends, and I would soon be leaving. The friend who had taken me there and introduced me, however, had gone back to Georgia, to finish an MBA program.
One night I was the closing waitress and the only person there except for the owner addict. I will never forget his name. He called me to his basement office in the dazzling four-level club, and when I got there, he walked behind me, slamming and locking the door. Wide, frightened eyes gave away my emotions. “Don’t even think about screaming,” he said in his thick guttural accent. “No one will hear you down here.”
He took off his belt and I thought . . . well, you know what I thought. But, then he said, “I’m going to beat you until no one recognizes you.” A mantra he kept repeating, like he wanted me to grasp the enormity of the words. “I’m going to beat you until . . .”
He held out his belt buckle, making sure my eyes met the heavy, reflective metal. “. . . no one will recognize you.” I had never been hit in my life. Dazed and terrified, a prayer went through my head fast. “Jesus! Please help!” Something like that.
Instantly, I was no longer horror-struck. Fearful perhaps, but strangely reassured. Sitting down, I patted the seat beside me. “Come sit by me,” I heard myself say.
Glassy eyes glared down on me. My knees felt as brittle as dead, fallen tree branches, but somehow I got up and took his face in my hands, running them down his arms. “Let’s get out of here,” I said, “This basement gives me the creeps.” He was totally stoned, his pupils scarily dilated.
I turned around fast—acting—the reason I’d come to New York in the first place. “Did you hear that?” Meanwhile, I would have welcomed Ali Baba and the forty thieves.
“I hear nothing,” he said.
“Please, I’m frightened,” I grabbed his arm tenderly. “Will you check it out?”
Several appeals later, he succumbed, “If you move while I’m gone, you’re dead.” He gave me an executioner’s look, unlocked the door, and walked out.
Don’t run. Don’t run!
The well-appointed room was small and softly lit compared to the bright, opulent surroundings outside the freedom door. I went back to the sofa and sat on my hands. They naturally trembled and they trembled now. Praying some more, I stared at the opened door, but stayed put.
No place to run.
When he returned, a lethal half-smile crossed his face, no doubt surprised I was there. “It was nothing, I told you.”
“Please, let’s go to my place or your place,” I said. “Anywhere but here.”
My ceaseless requests seemed not to register, until surprisingly, he agreed. It was late—at least 4 AM. He held my wrists tight, hurtful, as we made our way through the huge club. What I would do on an empty New York street, I couldn’t say, but that sense of calm streamed through me.
At the front of the building, he held only one of my arms while jerkily opening the wooden door with the keys in his right hand. But, the outside metal gate required both of his hands. Slit, moist eyes looked down on me, black and foreboding, as he released me to open the gate. I stood calmly. Waiting. When that metal clanked back, I shimmied through the opening and sprinted down that street like an Olympian! Even stoned he knew he had to lock the doors.
Unbelievably, at that early hour, at the end of the street, a cab was pulled to the curb. A beautiful black cabbie was cleaning ice cream out of the back seat. “Please, please, get out of here!” I screamed, jumping into the seat beside him, “Now!”
He looked at me as calm as the summer air, and with a lilting island accent, I swear he said something similar to this. “Lot of anxiety for this hour of the mornin’.” And he kept cleaning.
“Please! A man, he’s coming after me! Hurry!”
He put down his rag and got behind the wheel, his head shaking. Crazy woman. He didn’t need to say it.
As he pulled away, I heard my boss cursing, curbside.
Days later, and with little effort, a lawyer friend, David, found that my former employer was connected to a crime syndicate that enslaved girls. At the time, this naïve country girl thought that particular notion ridiculous. Today, I know human slavery is an all too real horror.
I did all the right things that night, too many to say it was luck. While I had strayed from my spiritual upbringing, my family always prayed. Today I see their dozens of answered prayers. I also see a guardian angel, not in the bedside chair of my youth, but next to my shoulder, telling me what to do and say.
And there was that child-like prayer, “Jesus, please help.” Simple words that produced supernatural composure and delivered me from a nightmare.
To be old and wise, the saying goes, you first must be young and foolish. And I was young and foolish. At the time, I didn’t see the signs or the depth of depravity that could have been. I did not make it in New York, but I made it out of New York. Because if we belong to Christ, while the world gets out of hand, we are always in the Master’s hand. In today’s insane world, it is the safest place, the only place to be.