When I got clean in ’88, recovery was really a case of the blind leading the blind. There were six Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week in Hollywood and the same 30 or 40 addicts showed up daily. Out of our group, maybe five people had two years clean and they sponsored everyone else. Aside from me—a New York transplant—it seemed like NA attracted the addicted ‘80s LA punk scene. Since we lacked a Sunday meeting, a dozen of us would venture to East LA or South Central. As soon as the motorcycle jacket combat boot-wearing white kids entered the room, the secretary would chuckle into the mic, “Our friends from Hollywood have arrived. We can start the meeting.” Back then in Hollywood, NA was leather, Doc Martins, red lipstick and punk, and AA was cowboy boots, three inches of bangles, big hair and Sunset Strip metal. Inside Jumbo’s Clown Room, however, fellowship divisions fell away with our clothing and we were all one.
I started dancing a couple months before I moved to Los Angeles in ‘87, my bottoming out year. I was forever smearing concealer over my tracks in the parking lot of the club because the other dancers only smoked weed or sniffed a little coke. Shooting up really went against the stereotype. Then again, I only worked the nude clubs—Seventh Veil, April’s Cabaret and the Century. For extra drug money, I’d do all the contests and make friends sit in the audience as tip plants to encourage guys to get competitive with their dollars. I was fearless and stupid. I’d sass the gangbangers at the Sly Fox for rifling through their stack of hundreds to find a single dollar bill. I’d make fun of the biker owners of Valley clubs for not spending their easily earned porn profits on me. When I was high, I didn’t give a fuck. I’d swoop in with a garbage bag full of cheap ratty costumes and Maybelline cosmetics and scoop up every $20 in the building, then head down to Marcy St to cop.
After a stint in a Louisiana rehab, I returned to LA with $100 and a few costumes. Prior to getting clean, I’d moved into someone’s kitchen with a 17-year old junkie boy. He now had 60 days clean and introduced me to a couple of sober strippers at my first meeting. They insisted I work with them if I wanted to stay sober. This was my introduction to Jumbos, the lowest rent strip club I’d ever stepped inside. It was like living in a bad music video. And these girls worked hard for their money: pole work, elaborate costume changes and five song sets. Day shifts had few girls—me, Courtney, my sponsor Cat, Valerie and a couple others who hadn’t made it to the program yet. This meant dancing to approximately 40 songs a day for roughly 60 measly dollars that came from the two dealers propped at the bar. It was exhausting. After a year of rolling around on the floor naked for two songs and hundreds of dollars, Jumbo’s was like hitting a new bottom. It probably would have felt more demoralizing if I’d worked there when I was high; it would have been cruder evidence of the downward spiral of my addiction. Clean, it was chipping away at whatever self-respect I hadn’t already destroyed. It baffled me that my co-workers loved this place. I was only there to show my newcomer willingness to follow direction.
It took three months of dancing five shifts per week before I was able to save $600 for a 1969 Dodge Dart. I’d never worked so hard for something in my life. Money always came easily when I was getting high and I never valued anything I bought with it. This car was different. I had earned every inch of it.
At six months clean, I was still working the sofa-surfing homeless newcomer hustle. I’d moved into one of those ghetto-like luxury cinder block complexes on Sierra Bonita and Fountain with an AA ex-wife of an NA friend. For $50 a week, I slept on a sofa in a room that was essentially her dog’s toilet. Every day was the same: 40 Def Leppard-type songs at Jumbos, a 7pm NA meeting, dinner with the girls and AA late night to flirt with big hair rocker boys in leotards and cowboy boots. Between the dismal vibe inside Jumbo’s and the claustrophobic scent of scat at home, I was starting to slip off my pink cloud. One night, I was so tired that when I finally parked in front of our building, I forgot my freshly laundered clothes (everything I owned) in the trunk.
When I stepped outside in the morning, everything I’d worked for—everything I owned—was gone. Who would steal an old car without hubcaps, a broken stereo and an empty gas tank? Of course I hadn’t registered the car, nor did I know the license plate. I had six months clean but I was homeless and had nothing—again.
Back inside the always-dark ground floor apartment, I side stepped new mounds of dog shit and threw myself on the bed, too empty to cry. Were the good times of my life really behind me? Was the fun really over before I hit 26? I tried to picture my future and could only see a road covered in potholes of future disappoints. Maybe a good life wasn’t in the cards for me. I knew I’d care a lot less if I was high. The thought frightened me.
I reached out for the phone and wailed, “Ron, my car was stolen! All my clothes—everything gone!” I started bawling. I’d met Ron Athey at an NA convention a few months before I went to rehab and we’d become fast friends upon my return. He told me to wait on the corner and within minutes was driving me to his apartment (which became my last stop on the sofa-surf tour). He kept telling me everything would be okay but I could tell he was scared for me. I didn’t want to get high but sort of felt that it was inevitable. He left for work but returned 10 minutes later carrying a birthday sheet cake, saying, “If you feel like getting high, I want you to eat this cake first. “ He made me promise while he scrawled his work number onto my hand, and then hugged me extra long before he left this second time. It frightened me that he was so concerned.
The way Ron tells it, the entire time he was at work, he wondered if I’d be high or worse—dead—when he returned. We’d bonded in such a profound way from the minute we met that he was personally invested in seeing me make it. When he walked into his apartment, I was asleep on the floor with my face covered in chocolate. Next to me was an empty cake box. We have since referred to this as the day cake saved my life.