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JERRY TORRE: The truth of Tompkin Square Park was if you went in that park at night, you could be killed in 10 feet in. They had fires burning, they had tents. There were all kinds of drugs. There were all kinds of sick people. I was outta control.
Many people in the building were heroin, cocaine addicts. You’d hear shots at night, people would get shot right in front– person got stabbed to death in front of my building, all kinds of darkness. There’s one afternoon I drive up to my building. You go upstairs. And I double parked. I come back downstairs. All hell is broken loose beyond the park’s fence.
AUDIO CLIP: People are heading onto the sidewalks on both sidewalks as the police head up Avenue A on horseback, the horse is now turning back and are heading towards Avenue A.
JERRY TORRE: There were people ripping tree limbs down and breaking car windows. Setting them a fire and hoards and hoards of people racing around doing damage to storefronts and all these vehicles. Because the police was chased– getting them out of there for the night, curfew.
AUDIO CLIP: That’s out of a helicopter. It’s showing its searchlight from over a building onto the eighth street.
JERRY TORRE: The Mayor, Giuliani, they’d established this program called Pressure Point. That was the name of it. Helicopter police dogs, police with the shields. It was the turning point for the East Village. They had to do something. It was out of control.
It was dangerous and dirty and drugs infested. But they were going ass crazy. Oh man, it was like a civil war and there wasn’t 10 people. There were thousands wherever they came from. And it was days of riots, just not that day. I was a witness to it. My cab was double parked. I quick, fast, got out of there.
CREDITS: You are listening to Everything is Stories. This episode is part two of the Marble Fawn.
JERRY TORRE: I had returned to Saudi in 1981. Robert, my friend, met me at the airport. He said, I got your bankbook here. You wanna see how much you’ve saved? I said, no, I don’t. I want to go to a bath house. I’m gonna get laid. I don’t give a shit about money. I don’t care. I mean it.
I‘m not even bragging. I had rolling in money, big money. I looked like a really rich guy cuz I had the finest clothes and I wasn’t looking to look like that, but I just happened to be very hot looking and I had great clothes and I was rich. And I was good looking, so I wanted to go to a whorehouse, that’s where you go.
AUDIO CLIP: Come to Man’s country, see what we’re all about and what we have to offer. Man’s Country’s a full facility, multi-leveled complex that was designed to feature something for everyone. Come to man’s country and develop your body, or a friendship with somebody else’s. Visit us once and you’ll come again and again. For the best workout in town, it’s man’s country. 28 West?
JERRY TORRE: Now it’s back in 1981.
PRODUCER: What’s New York like?
JERRY TORRE: Wild, it was no AIDS virus. All the bathhouses were steaming along. You literally would sit in his room with couches and there was a menu of drugs for sale. You could buy anything, heroin to shoot, heroin to smoke, coke to shoot, coke to smoke. LSD, marijuana, everything you wanted was a menu.
And you’d order it and sit there and pay it, and then bring it out to you in the package. Cause I didn’t have any fear. I just got home and I was rich. What I did was I got into a heavy duty drugs and I moved into a bathhouse. There was three floors and there was another building with three floors. It was a luxurious garden, a TV room, two orgy rooms, and neat little cubicles. Private door lamps, bed, it was really, really neat.
It wasn’t dirty and it was a major whorehouse. It was a sexual supermarket. It was not only based on sex, it was about re-communicating and re-established. It was like, wow, I have all this money. I can just stay here. It was only 24 bucks a day to rent. It was cheap. I stood there till I sewed my seeds.
I made a lot of friends. I had gotten everything outta my system. But after all of that was said and done, I took the money and decided to do something with it. So Robert suggested, I agreed, we’ll buy a small truck. I got a route, by moving parcel out of Williamsburg and began trucking.
It’s a tough business and there’s a lot of work here. There always is. Then we advertised it in the voice and it was called AAA all that’s four A’s Borrow Triple A, All Borough Trucking. So we were the top advertising in the voice and our phone rang off the hook. We picked up a lot of clients.
I started moving finer items besides parcel and boxes. And we were hired by interior decorators to move fine art. I had Paloma Picasso as a customer. Charlotte Ford, Nile Smith, interior designers heaven. He had everything from antiquity to modern art. I mean it. We were in business for eight years and well, Robert got himself sick and it was horrible.
We were on first Avenue about East 30th Street. His speaking was completely exaggerated. It wasn’t making– he didn’t put together sentences or full thoughts. It was very obvious that he had something going on. I went to emergency room thinking he just had like a stroke or has something the doctor said he has to be admitted he has full blown aids.
I said, what? Of course, I was blown away. Here’s my heart and soul. My best friend. My best friend. I was like a brother.I knew about it and then I found out the name of it and I still didn’t completely get it. No one did. It was a big problem, of course.
AUDIO CLIP: The cause of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS is unknown and there is no known cure. The deadly disease has been mostly striking homosexual men. More than 700 cases have been reported in New York, 1600 in the country.
JERRY TORRE: You know what he did in the hospital and freaking blow me away. He sat up like this and he said, what are you gonna do without me? And I just couldn’t believe he said that. I said, you’re not gonna do anything without you. You’re not gonna be going anywhere.
I didn’t want even think of him not being alive. And he said that, what are you gonna do without me? He died so, so abruptly and he was right. I went on destructive trip. Oh boy. After he got diagnosed quickly and passed away, God bless him. His doctor said, you take a test.
I would like you to do that. And I did and I was HIV positive and had Hep C from using and having sex. There were at least 10 of us. I mean it, I can hear all of the names, there’s many. One by one, they were no longer around. There was no more to call. That also impacted my loneliness. Cuz with people we went to the anvil with and the baths with and the discos, during those good years, they were no longer confidants cuz they were dead.
I couldn’t call Dale up and say, oh, I’m having a really hard time. Can I come over? No one was there, there was no one. I was the last of the Mohicans. I was absolutely isolated as if I’d moved to Chicago. There was nobody around anymore. I decided to move into my own East Village apartment, take some money outta the bank and party to escape it all.
I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to be selfish and I abused myself, I guess. Got into drugs and heavy duty sex. So I decided to like buy like a suitcase full of cocaine. Peruvian Flake, so strong that if you touch it, you could feel it. You know, you can get high. It was light, it was pure. The best aphrodisiac you ever take. You could not control yourself.
Hot to trot 24-7. It was amazingly powerful. Bought a lot of it from a disco tech owner in Miami, and I learned how to shoot it up. Which, was really stupid. It kept me from the reality of Robert being gone, the business being gone. I didn’t have anything left. I would get into the elevator, after buying the beers and porno, and say, what the fuck are you gonna do about this problem? You can’t even stop using. The minute I woke up, I used. I was so addicted. I went to such a sorry state, my casket was being closed on me.
I was in my house this summer day and I’m so paranoid I take all my stuff and pour it in the middle of the room cuz I’m sure someone’s around. Well, I was using, I thought I heard something, so I went to the front door and I wiped my sweat off my brow and opened a pinhole window. Little thing for the hallway. I saw, I mean it, I saw the devil and a nurse next to him.
The devil was wrapped in cellophane, pondering my death, like, oh, he’s gonna get dead, you know, take him. And the nurse spoke spastic. She was wearing nurse’s outfit and going really fast like doing this. Like it was the scariest thing. I got so paranoid, and that’s probably why I saw these things. That’s how nuts I was. I think it meant that I was this close to dying and going to hell.
I was a deviant prick. I was dark soul. I did stuff that I wouldn’t tell you about to myself and others. I would get sheets of to the wind with high A chemical drugs. Major psychotic. I was dangerous. I don’t know if you ever done coke.. Have you done Coke?
JERRY TORRE: Don’t. It will take, you’ll buy the balls and you’ll fight to get ’em back. Fucking drug man. It’s horror show, it’s devil’s makeup. It’s terrible. It takes you into a falseness that is euphoria. It excites you sexually. Like you feel like the only stud and you can handle and do anything, and you feel so sexual, it’s so powerful. It grabs a hold of your soul and your spirit and your body. Then you want more of it.
It’s really no joke. It’s got me and I had to fight for my life. Here’s how I really got out of the addiction. I remember it was a summertime. It was just before July the fourth. Of course, being the asshole that I am, I decided it was okay to use again. It was just the devil and I abscessed here.
My arm blew up. Cause I shot up so stupidly that arm was infected and I had to go to the hospital. I get home from the hospital, and I decided to shoot up this arm. And then I ran outta drugs and it was July 4th night. And I was so frigging lonely. There was no one to call. I didn’t have a phone call to the hustlers cause I couldn’t afford them anymore.
Nobody wanted to know me cuz I was out of my mind. So I went down to the river where they were gonna have the fireworks. There was hoards and hoards of people. And I started looking in the garbage, drink sodas left over, thrown away. I was down the balls of my ass.
I just walked back to my East Village apartment. It was roasting hot. I had a fan in the window and I’m trying to sleep. Sweating and anxiety filled. Guess what? Fireworks over the river. I could hear them. I got so physically depressed. Well, I said, oh my fucking God, about 3000 times if I said it once. Over and over and over cause I was so freaking blown away.
That was my battle cry. I want my life back. It was just too dark and too brutal and dangerous in every way. I wanted out, and that wasn’t so easy. Up till Robert’s death I had everything. Health looks, money, everything. There’s nothing wrong. Now I had nothing and everything was wrong. It went on for two years when I trying to get clean.
PRODUCER: What were you doing to try to get clean?
JERRY TORRE: I went across the street. There’s Odyssey House joint. Started talking. I went to groups. They said, you’re like one of the worst cases. And you’re also positive. You’re like dealing with death every hour. You need to leave the apartment and move in here. It’s just too rough for me. I’d never be able to handle it, so I didn’t. But then I called up a place called Smithers. The protocol was, you’d call them every day for about 10 days and say, I’m still here can you gimme a bed.
Every day. And once you got a few days under your belt calling, they’d say, come up. We will admit you. Anyway, I went there and a girl, a woman, named Mary, she looks at me and goes, you gonna move in here with us? I own you for 31 days. What I say, you do, or you can leave. And it was awakening cause. She’d wake me up at six in the morning to go get breakfast and then attend a prayer meeting. She had us write and write and write about the stories of this addiction, which took it to another level.
I actually was reading this shit and saying, what a maniac you are. You are practically broke. You are outta control cuz you can’t stop using. You’re HIV positive and you have Hepatitis-C. Your partner’s dead. Nobody wants to know you. You realize the wreckage of your life up to this moment. And I broke. I just– I was really aware of that then. And I’ll tell you something, they turned me around. They, really did. They got me on my feet and I was tender.
I didn’t get sober still, I still used after that, a little. And then I would feel like all kinds of terrible. And finally I said, Jerry, you have to make up your mind. My landlord saved me, John. He said, I heard you’ve been having a lot of trouble. You’re bringing home a lot of derelicts.
You’re in trouble. I said, John, I am really in trouble. He goes, it’s not gonna help you by bringing these bums home. You’ve gotta face this and get clean. He knew me. So he said, you know what I’ll do? Give me your lease and I’ll give you 5,000 bucks. Just sign these papers and I’ll give you a money order for five grand.
But you gotta leave, cuz you’re not good for the building and you’re not helping yourself. And he was right. The neighbors would be frightened of me, everyone. I get home from coming home late at night you hear the doors locking on the hallway, jerry’s home. Cuz I was dangerous.
My apartment was a shooting gallery. There was no way, ever, I could stay there and try to get clean. I mean, I would have two days sobriety, sometimes 11. But somebody would knock on the door a trick, a junkie, say, want a party? I’d say, yeah, hurry, get in. And it would start, began– I’d start the cycle. My friend had a cab, Jimmy, he lived in Queens.
I met him at meetings. He always offered me a job driving for him. So I said, if I move out to Queens, I could get a job with you. He goes, definitely, but you gotta stay clean. I moved here to a real estate with the money I had left over and the five grand I rented here. That was 20 years ago. The house was filthy, dirty shag carpet, but I loved it here, right away.
I didn’t have anything and I didn’t have a phone here, and I had no one to call if I had a phone. And no one around that I knew. I didn’t know anyone here. And it was a sanctuary, so I said, oh, I got a real break from that environment.
Finally, I got some time onto my belt. I didn’t have the temptation. I went to meetings, but I never brought anyone back here with me, even if they were sober a hundred years. About 10 years. I didn’t have any soul in here. My uncle was the cab driver. His father was a cab driver.
I was a cab driver. I went and drove the cab. Jimmy was very fair with the lease. He drove the daytime shift and I drove night and he was right here. So when I finished my shift, I parked right on around the block and he picked it up in the morning. It was our routine. I had a new home, a new life. I’m just thankful. Every night was an adventure. New York City at night is a Mad Man’s Playhouse, really.
When you drive as many years as I did, and it was going on. When we seen things that we were outrageous. Murders and suicides, lot of drugs, a lot of sex in the backseat. It was real. One Chinese dude was snorting heroin. I knew it. He had his little key out and I could hear him and I knew it cuz he was, I could tell he was using heroin cuz he’d scratch his head and do this.
And I knew it and I didn’t say anything. Did I have temptations? No. I fought them right off with the remembering what it was like. I said, no, you’re not gonna go back to that.
I’m on 61 on fifth Avenue at the Pierre Hotel. So it’s raining. I have a customer, yellow cab, red light. And my customer said, who’s that? I looked and said, what? I pull down the window and I look under the canopy of the Pierre, where they have the lamps, those heater lamp things, and there’s Edie Beale. Whenever I lived with her, she always had a kerchief, so I never knew she the extent of her baldness, which was caused by alopecia.
But this night she was just wearing a gold snake amulet. It was beautiful, wrapped around her skull, and she seemed much taller than I remembered her to be. Seeing her that night really freaked me out, somehow more than ever. It was powerful moment.
I never realized how absolutely unique she was completely till that night. I knew she was unique, but I mean it guys, there was a rarity. Her presence, her eccentricity was a zenith that night. And there she is under the heaters. And my customers again saying, who’s that? And I said, that’s Edie Beale. And she said, who’s that? I said, nevermind, you wouldn’t understand.
But she was so dynamically individual. What an individual she was. That was the last time I saw Edie Beale. I still find it fascinating that they loved me as they did. I had no life before them. I had been beaten by my father, had the shoplift food. And they were from the complete opposite end of the social ladder. I mean, I was a runaway from Brooklyn.
My parents worked for the city of New York. We weren’t raised in the same fashion, near it as the Bouvier clan. None of it. Baths closed one after the other, cause of the virus. All of that, as dark as it was, as out of control as it was, were all gone. The corners we’d smoke pot on, the corners we’d dance in the bars at they were gone.
What was it like? It was sad. It was like I was a ghost. I witnessed things in these buildings, these locations that were like, at one time fun and memorable. And I had friends who were family. When I would drive past and I felt like I’m the last one here. And these are things I will cherish, but I wanna live to live on and see more stuff. I want to be happy again.
I can’t use and say, you’re not gonna fuck this up. Talking to myself, you’re gonna take this seriously. I had a really good opportunity, which I cherished. I started getting medicine for the virus about, well, about 20 years now. My best friend Wayne, who was unfortunately murdered, God bless him, he said to me, I’m gonna start treatment. And I said, I’m not gonna start that, I’m not gonna be sick, I’m strong. All this shit. It was my fear of dying from it.
And I saw a photograph of that someone took of me in the garden and I looked really, I don’t, you would not recognize me. I looked sick. I mean, I was dark in the eyes and pale, virus was getting stronger. But when I went to the doctors and had my labs read to me, he said, you have 90 million copies. They will open the door one day and it’s gonna knock you dead. I knew I wouldn’t die of it, but it, until the doctor told me that you have 90 million copies. That’s a lot of virus.
Well, I was living here. I was– it was not anything special going on except that I was at the gym. I had quit smoking and I was consistent, clean and getting stronger. I just beat the Hep C with the new Hep-C medicine that’s been approved. My HIV status is non-detectable. I cannot spread it if I want to do that, which I wouldn’t. I have less than 50 copies of the virus cause of the meds I take, the gym I go to, the food I eat, the liquor I don’t drink, the drugs, I don’t take. I’m determined not to get that illness. After I saw Roberts going through that, it freaked me out.
Well, at the end of my ruining my health at the end of the turbulent dark years of using I got strong enough to know how to guide myself through temptation. That I could actually depend on me, finally, again. I know to get up in the morning, eat good, and hit the gym that turns my day right into a good day. But look in the mirror, you’re the only one that can be happy. You can make your own happiness, and that’s it.
I can depend on myself to do that. Really the calmer of being compassionate and good to people. No attitude about it. It really is the stuff that life is made of. It’s really, that’s why we’re human. We’re not gonna be on this earth forever.
I find compassion my strength. To the life that I have lived, I have finally found that I can depend on myself to live it, for sure. I used to carve stone since 1987, with Robert. I used to work in this hallway, the stairwell of this building on a little bench, wooden. Carved and made a mess. The super hated my guts, but I was carving marble there cause I didnt have a place to do it.
10 years ago, I registered for school. Cause I didn’t have a place to work. I didn’t have the guts to register in such a school because Pablo Picasso’s people went there. Roy Lichtenstein went there. Jackson Pollock went there. Who– I’m a cab driver. I’m gonna go there? I didn’t think I had it in me, the stuff. But the first year I started, I carved him.
I got a scholarship that I’m still using. There I go there. It’s complete peace and harmony. When I start working and I’m not interrupted, I forget who I am. I don’t think of things I’m absent of the world. I’ve just worked. It’s great freedom. It’s peace. I have real peace. I mean, I will work myself till I’m beat. I mean, I work 10 hour days at school and it just– I’m a dirt bomb. It doesn’t matter. I’m full. I can got my work. I got my tools, that’s it. It’s really something I have a calling for. It’s a complete liberty.
To yield something out of as difficult a medium as this is exactly what my life has been. This is discipline. This is one subject that if you don’t have discipline, you’re wasting your time. And you have to have perseverance. You have to love it. It’s sort of like a reflection of life itself.
The more you love life, the more you’ll work with it.When I do carve my own tombstone, I’m gonna include the people that loved me alongside their symbols. Like a single rose from Mrs. Beale and Edie. For my parents, a grapevine on a granite stone. And for me, a fawn standing sculpture of a small marble fawn.