Peppermint Ain’t So Sweet

Matty the Horse could be Matty the Gay Horse if the price was right. That is to say, despite being Italian, he didn’t have qualms with backing a gay nightclub when the money was rolling in. Just as it was at The Peppermint Lounge before all the straights and celebs caught wind of it, reaching a peak when Jackie Kennedy implemented a temporary version of the lounge in the White House, with the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States partaking in the famed twist during a rare moment of removing the sticks from their asses. In short, the club had reached the point when all coolness is sucked out of the underground by the mainstream.

Yet still, despite how I warned him, Matty didn’t loosen the reins on his grip over the goings-on at the club. The money was too good. Better than ever. At the cost of losing the anonymity that came with the just as well-paying fagulas. I remember when it first opened. I was dancing over at Club Samoa, and a few other burlesque places on The Street. That’s where he found me. I was already tied to someone else in the Genovese family, but what Matty wanted, Matty got. Just like the hit on Crazy Joe at Umberto’s (he could declare up and down that he had nothing to do with it, but I knew better). Just like I knew better when he ordered me into a private room for a “more intimate” dance. Of course I knew what that meant, it just wasn’t often that anybody had the fuckin’ balls to ask. Or the cash, for that matter. Most men preferred to get their rocks off in movie theaters; it was cheaper than the drinks you had to pay for at a show.

But Matty always had the money, and it always tended to come from the disenfranchised, the ones who could only get their jollies from an operation run by a white man who would turn a blind eye to their fun. That was what it came down to with prejudice–it was about white men wanting everyone else to be miserable. Maybe because they themselves were so angry at the world for no good reason. And they wanted to at least give others the reason they never had to be so irate. When he asked my name, I told him it was Viva. He said he liked that, it meant “forever.” As if I didn’t know. Did he think I was some kinda amateur in choosing an innuendo-laden stage name? I’d been doing this since the beginning of the decade, starting in Miami and making my way up to New York when certain people became a little too obsessive. Hazard of the trade. Or hazard of having curves like mine regardless of whether I shook my ass for a living or not.

I figured at least in a big place like New York, I had a greater chance for not sticking out among the other girls. I didn’t realize how small “the community” was though. How everyone involved in the skin trade was eventually involved with the mob. As if they were the only “real” men who could handle something as scandalous as the female form. Then again, the government had its fair share of mafiosi, Kennedy was one of ’em. But that was the 60s, when everything got oversaturated. I’m still talking about the 50s when there was an element of sophistication to seediness. When guys like Matty wanted a designated moll instead of just balling whoever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Which of course Matty still did regardless, but he put on a good show about pretending I was the only one. Besides, I didn’t really love him. I just wanted protection. To do my job in peace. Matty provided that safeguard–when I was on the stage, when I was walking back to my ramshackle. It was only when he started throwing all of his energy into The Peppermint Lounge that I felt I began to lose him.

It all made sense when I finally decided to walk in and see the joint with my own eyes. The long mahogany bar drawing my eye to the dance floor and all of its mirrors. It was a gay paradise. To add to it all, the voice of Dalida flooded the space with “Come Prima.” It was at this instant that Matty emerged from the shadows and into the light reaching his hand out to take mine. It was one of the moments of my life and I’ll always have the image of him in his black suit, looking as dapper as he ever could (for let’s be honest, his face was similar to a bullfrog’s most of the time) pulling me up out of the lusterlessness of my life to a level more sparkling and glamorous. Even as we danced among the crude and crass finocchi. They were all over each other, at last having discovered a haven where judgment was out the window so long as they paid for it to be. In turn, the Genovese foot soldiers would keep the cops at bay with a combination of payoffs and muscle. And everyone else got to dance without it being called a crime.

The mob didn’t discriminate. That meant when straights started coming in more regularly, they didn’t turn them away either. The Peppermint Lounge wasn’t like what The Stonewall Inn was going to be, though it was certainly a precursor to how the mafia was the only “institution” that, for all intents and purposes, supported the mos. I was starting to think maybe Matty was one. He did seem to enjoy his time around them, and who knows what went on when I wasn’t around? You get enough bootlegged alcohol flowing and every guy’s a homo all the sudden. Not that it hasn’t been my opinion that they all are to begin with. The only reason they like to take a look at the bare tits of a stranger is ’cause they can’t look at their own ma’s. And we all know a fagula loves his ma. Sure, I’ll be your mom for the night. For the grand total of twenty bucks in tips. Oh if my own mother could see me now. She’d ask God what she had done wrong. I could tell her: have sex.

That was definitely my problem when I found out I was pregnant with Matty’s child. I didn’t even wanna tell him about it except for the fact that I knew he was the only one who could find me a non-quack doctor to get rid of it. Christ knows the mafia needed an on-hand abortionist to keep their marriages alive–and their mistresses’ figures, to boot. The problem was, I couldn’t get into the Peppermint Lounge anymore. He never told me what I did wrong. Or maybe my theory was correct and he was having too much fun there with all the mos. After enough times turned away at the door, I went to have a back alley procedure. I don’t know what the crazy bastard did but somehow I ended up with septic shock. And no, I didn’t live to tell about it. Much the same as so many of Matty’s victims. Matthew. He was no saint. But he knew how to make all “sinners” feel welcome.

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