I was looking for something to write for an uplifting Christmas story, and my mind flashed back to New York City, eighteen years ago.
At the time, I owned a nightclub in Grammercy Park, just north of Fourteenth St, called Irving Plaza. I don’t remember who the Christmas Eve act the night before was, although I know it was a sold out show. I know this because at about four in the morning as the room was finally emptying out my doorman Kyle (not his real name, even though the statute of limitations has long since run out) who was also the club coke dealer came sidling up to me and with a conspiratorial grin, slipped two folded hundred dollar bills into my hand.
“What’s this?” I asked, more than a little smashed and justifiably confused.
“It’s your cut.” he answered, still grinning like a madman.
“My cut of what?” Was Kyle trying to let me in on a piece of the club coke action? If so, I didn’t want it. Life was complicated enough without becoming an accessory to felony drug dealing and conspiracy. I always had a suspicion that Kyle moved a lot of product.
“Your cut of the tickets.” he replied. I stared at the two C notes in my hand.
“Kyle what the fuck are you talking about? I own the club; all the ticket money is mine. It’s how I pay your salary.”
“No, no, you don’t understand. These aren’t your tickets, these are my tickets. Here’s your cut.” He kept pushing at my hand as if he could shove the money under my skin and up into a vein.
“Dude, you gotta clear this up for me.”
“OK,” he said with a sigh, sounding like he was explaining why the sky is blue to his baby daughter, as the pitiful Christmas lights our illegal Polish porter Stas, who slept in the basement, had strung up around the front door twinkled raggedly. Outside, a bitter Christmas wind slammed up the street, laying the spikes of the last straggling patrons’ Mohawks nearly flat.
“When someone comes into the club they go to the ticket booth and buy a ticket. Then they bring the ticket to me and I rip it in half and give em back the stub, right?”
“Yeah...” I answer, “but what...”
He held up his hand. “Well, I’m left with a stub in my hand too. So when the next guy comes in I palm his ticket whole and give him the stub from the first guy. That leaves me with a whole ticket. When I get a bunch of whole tickets, say ten or so, I bring them back to the ticket booth and Angel (my ticket girl) resells them, keeping that cash separate from your money. At the end of the night we split the extra money up.” He pointed to my hand. “That’s your cut.”
I stared at him for a moment, trying to take this all in. My doorman was robbing me and giving me a cut of the proceeds. At that time my ticket prices were ten to twenty dollars per person, so on average ten tickets would be worth a hundred and fifty dollars. If he did this more than once or twice a night he was talking anywhere from five hundred to a thousand bucks a night he was nicking me for. I might have been pretty high at that point but I could sense something was amiss. The little battery operated plastic nose of the tiny reindeer pinned to his coat lapel blinked happily in agreement with Kyle.
Rudolf got it, but I didn’t.
“Kyle, let me explain something to you. What you’re describing is robbery. You’re robbing me, whether you give me a cut or not. You can’t see that?”
“I am not robbing you!” Kyle was getting frustrated. “Look, we only do this on sold out shows. How many tickets do you print a night?”
“A thousand, you know that.” The legal capacity of the club was four hundred eighty, but one thousand was a nice round number, plus it made the place feel cozy with all those sweating bodies crammed so tight that taking a deep breath became a Herculean feat. As long as there was no panic or fire we were fine.
“Well, there ya go. You sold all the tickets you printed, a thousand. These are tickets you would have never sold at all if I hadn’t palmed them. They wouldn’t have even existed.” He gestured towards my hand, “We decided that since you had something to do with it though, you should get some. That’s your cut.”
I shook my head to clear it. This was beginning to make sense and that scared me. I had to sober up. That night had turned into a Staff Christmas party somewhere around One
AM and we had all gone more over the top than usual. Girls in mini skirts, fishnets and
knock me down pumps and guys in leather jackets and combat boots drunkenly sang Christmas Carols between sets as we had thrown white confetti off the balcony to simulate snow. It had been a great night, but as with all Clubland evenings it was starting to go downhill.
“So you’re telling me that you can’t be robbing me because without you getting me the money to rob, I wouldn’t have anything to rob in the first place.”
“Now you got it! And that’s your cut.” Kyle smiled benignly, another thorny problem solved to everyone’s satisfaction. I put the money in my pocket. Later I realized that he had also folded a packet full of coke into the cash. Merry Christmas.
I was thinking of this as I walked along Fourteenth Street to my car the next morning after going home to my apartment in the Village, showering, changing my clothes and filling myself up with coffee and Visine.
My arms were loaded with gifts for my family. There was a bum lying on sidewalk about a half block in front of me, in front of the old Luchow’s Restaurant, which was now a gay club, thrashing about madly. I was briefly worried that the guy was having a seizure of some sort, but as I got closer I realized that he was trying to pull his pants off without getting up off the sidewalk. Approaching closer still, a pervasive odor filled the Yuletide air. The guy had shit in his pants and was trying to rid himself of the offending garments. I walked on.
Christmas is a time for memories of days gone by, a time for quiet joy and peace. And to all of you, whatever your memories, thank you for letting me share mine. Merry Christmas.