RED SKY AT MORNING
By 1982 my downward spiral was well under way,
not that I wasn’t enjoying myself.
By Shaun Costello
The sun was an hour from rising, and the sky was a fiery red when we drove the trailer over the Mid Hudson Bridge on our way to Rhinebeck. Skies like this always reminded me of the old sea shanty that began:
“Red sky at morning, sailor’s warning.
Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”
There were three of us riding in the cab of my truck; myself, Harriett, and Becky, a local high-schooler who was working as our groom for the day. The lights in the barn had burned late the night before. There were coats to be washed and brushed, manes and tails to be pulled and braided, hoofs to be polished, tack to be soaped and scrubbed, and everything, other than our two now-immaculate horses, packed into the trailer for the next day’s competition. Then home to try to get some sleep, which never happened because I was too terrified of my dressage test. If only I could get through the dressage test, the next two phases of the competition would be a breeze. I could always get horses over fences. But the dressage test.
I would lie awake staring at the ceiling, going through the test over and over. Enter at “A” at a working trot. Keep it straight, keep it straight. Collect and halt at “X”. Settle. Be still. Salute the judge. Be still. Wait for the nod. Pray to God that somebody’s truck doesn’t backfire. Exhale. Proceed to “C” at a working walk. What a nightmare. If I could just get through the dressage test.
In the back of the trailer were two one-thousand-pound animals; primped, polished, and ready to show their stuff. In the front was a changing compartment that contained our freshly cleaned tack, our riding clothes, our boots and helmets, and the various tools and horsey gadgets that would see us through the event. In my tack trunk hung my custom tailored riding jacket, and in the inside pocket of that jacket were four tiny glass one-gram bottles of Peruvian flake. It would be a four-gram day.
My dressage test was a blank. I entered the ring, I left the ring, and I couldn’t remember a thing. Probably better that way. When I looked at the scores that were posted outside the judge’s tent I was 58th, out of 65 riders. There were actually seven riders who were worse than I was. Not bad. Maybe the coke helped. I had already gone through the first gram. And, unknown to Harriett, my tiny coke spoon was secretly finding its way to Becky’s willing little nostrils throughout the morning. There’s a sexual dynamic to the shared cocaine experience. You do a line, and first there’s the exhilaration – the heightened awareness followed, only moments later, by the glow of sensuality, and sense of well being. Then she does a line, and you know what she’s experiencing, and you want her to know that you know, and you want to kiss her, and hold her, and touch her everywhere. You want to join her experience. Of course, this could be embarrassing if she’s only sixteen, and the two of you are standing in the middle of three hundred other people, so you keep your hands to yourself. And as the day progressed, and we kept up the coke consumption, the heightened sexuality between us became more intense. I worried that Harriett would notice the amount of time I was spending with Becky in the dressing compartment of the trailer, but she was preoccupied with her own riding and didn’t seem to pay attention.
I did well in the cross-country phase, and was now 20th, out of the 65 competitors. I was also now half way through my third gram, with the help of my loyal groom, who was assisting me through the obligatory wardrobe changes that happen before each phase in the competition, her young hands brushing dangerously close to places where they should never have been. I was second in stadium Jumping, the third and last phase of the competition, and wound up sixth overall, getting a green ribbon for my efforts.
It was after nine by the time we dropped Harriett off at the house, and drove around to the barn to unload the trailer and feed the horses. Becky insisted that I drop her at the beginning of the long driveway to her parent’s house. There was an awkward moment, the two of us standing beside my truck, when I handed her twenty dollars, which was her groom’s fee for the day. I told her it should
be more and she said, “Are you kidding? I’d do it for nothing. I’d do anything for you. Have you got another hit?” And suddenly it happened. It had to. The kissing, and groping, and tearing of clothes, and the coldness of the metal bed of the pickup truck against my skin, and she was so willing to please me, and she was so young and delicious, and I’m not sure how long it lasted, and then there was nothing but the loud breathing, and then the cold. I don’t think we said another word to each other. There was nothing really to say. I dropped her off further up the driveway, closer to her parent’s house, and then drove home.
Harriett was still up, and she was bristling. When I asked her if she wanted me to fix a late supper she refused to talk to me. I guess my flirtation with Becky must have been obvious, and it had happened within full view of most of our friends. Harriett was livid. So I had a glass of port, and went upstairs to finally get some sleep. All in all, Harriett’s objections not withstanding, it had been a good day. A green ribbon day. A four gram day. That’s the way I saw it. That’s the way my mind worked. It was the logic of the coke spoon. Harriett’s taking exception to my behavior was simply an annoyance. A small bump in my road to self-satisfaction. A minor glitch. And what was she objecting to? Just, my ingesting enough cocaine hydrochloride over the last fourteen hours to give a normal person a seizure. And sharing a good deal of it with an underage girl, with whom I had a felonious sexual encounter in the back of a pick-up truck. And, in my coked-out haze, I thought it had been a good day. Just how many more ‘good days’ like this one could I survive? How many could the people around me survive? The collateral damage was mounting.
My journey towards oblivion was gaining momentum now. I was riding a runaway train. I was out of control, and it didn’t scare me a bit. ‘Out of control’ was delicious. ‘Out of control’ was a safe haven from responsibility. ‘Out of control’ was my excuse-of-choice for all my sins. ‘Out of control’ was my last alias. It was the outfit I wore to the costume party that my life had become. Maybe ‘out of control’ had been my intended destination all along. Since, taking advantage of the youth-fare, and boarding the train as a
twelve-year-old, while negotiating with God about masturbation. Since hiding behind my first pseudonym. Since becoming comfortable with duplicity. Since telling my first lie. I had lied to Jane, and Jane had lied to her parents, and her parents had lied to themselves. All aboard. Next stop self-destruction.
I was spending more than I was earning, and funds were becoming dangerously low. My ability to generate income through producing pornography, something I had always taken for granted, was now seriously impaired by the cognitive congestion in my coked-out brain. Spending money was seductive. Another ounce. A new thoroughbred. “How much? Sure, I’ll take it. No, give me two. Hey everybody, I’ve got more
coke, have some. Want some quaaludes? Sure, I’ve got plenty. And have some more coke. Hey, lets go to Jamaica for the weekend, my treat. Let’s call a limo. I can charge it. But please like me, OK? I just want everyone to like me. Please”. I needed compensation for my own self-loathing.
Harriett was fed-up with my charade, and I was spending more and more time in the city. I had been abandoned by Mark Silverman, who had gone off to Texas to help Joel and Ethan Coen make “Blood Simple”. Mark gave me his assistant Kevin, who took his place, and I drove him crazy. All night bacchanal’s at the Hellfire Club and three day drug/sex binges at Steve Tucker’s had taken their toll on my cognitive abilities. Where Mark, knowing what I needed, and where I had been the night before, made decisions without needing my approval, Kevin simply walked through the offices at 505 muttering to himself that I had lost my ability to focus on anything. He was right. I could barely focus on the meter to figure out the taxi fare from Steve Tucker’s to The Hellfire Club – my home away from home.
The Hellfire Club had been built as a working set for an Al Pacino movie called Cruising. In the film, it was supposed to be a gay sex club. The producers left it intact when they struck the production, and the owner of the building opened it as The Hellfire Club. It was gay, it was straight, it was rough, it was smooth, it was all things to all people, and there’s never been anything like it. As the hour grew later, and Donna Summer grew louder moaning, “Ooooooooooooo love to love ya baby”, and the dancers grew sweatier, and the sound of a distant whip crack grew more frequent, the night was just beginning. Jerzy Kozinski was in the corner practicing the art of manipulation, convincing unsuspecting girls into doing unthinkable things. Mickey Rourke seemed everywhere, groping and caressing ever-available flesh. Huntington Hartford, who was eating Quaaludes like candy, leaned against a wall trying to focus on the activities happening in front of him. Recognizable fashion models were strutting through the “Maze” in the back of the club, hands outstretched, stoking the hard cocks, sometimes twenty at a time, protruding through the glory holes on either side. If you had to take a leak, the only bathroom had a trough, about six feet long, containing a piss soaked guy in fatigues chanting, “Faggot, faggot, piss here, piss here, I’m a faggot, got some poppers?” Jamie Gillis, had leash in hand, connected to the collar on the throat
of Gael Green, a well known restaurant critic for New York Magazine, who was on her knees servicing a line of twenty guys waiting to be sucked off. “Oooooooooooooo love to love ya baby.” I just loved this place.
And when I got tired of the crowd at Hellfire I could always head back up to Steve Tucker’s apartment, which was a constant drug/sex binge. Cocaine, both snorted and free based, ecstasy, mushrooms, Ketamine (Special K), which made you feel like you had just been shot out of a cannon, and willing young girls in a quaalude haze, ready to do anything. It was a pharmaceutical phantasmagoria.
And I had a movie to do. I had to pay for all this. I sat in my office trying to write a script, and the sirens at Steve Tucker’s were sweetly singing. So I did another line of coke. It couldn’t hurt. I had two more pictures to do for Leisure Time, and I’d become a messy commodity. I hired an old friend, Ron Dorfman, to shoot both films. He was doing as much cocaine as I was, so my paranoia level was assuaged. I did the pictures. What a mess.
© 2009 Shaun Costello