Life At Max's Kansas City 1978-80
(Episode 3)
by Cliff Hausman


Part of living your working life from 7:30 P.M. to 4:00 am is having a social life after hours. I woke up at sundown. My eyes were filled with sleep at sunup. My life was most fun during the darkest time of night, before the dawn. When Max's was shut down, after the free drinks were served to each to cap off the evening's work, we'd go off in various ways.

Sometimes some of us would taxi over to the Empire Diner over on the West Side. It was a pretentious little diner that would do things like only have lucky strikes available to those who wished a pack of smokes. It's most famously pictured on Tom Wait's British best of collection of his Asylum (the label) years. Go out and buy it right now (if you haven't already), put a disc on (any disc, it's a four sider on LP so you got a lot of choices) and stare at the cover. I guess that's how I'll remember it all polished chrome look flashing neon into a dark street, the only action in that West Chelsea area. Inside we'd sit in booths, usually four or five of us, sometimes more. The favorite items were chili sundaes and the chocolate hot fudge sundae with a brownie inside, the name of which I've forgotten. The chili was served in a tall sundae glass with chili instead of ice cream, sour cream instead of whipped cream and a cherry tomato performing for the cherry. It was pretty goddamned good after a long night of serving, not eating food. We started the night with a free meal, something bland and cheap: Hamburger, Cheese Omelet, some kind of sandwich, that sort of thing. So, more than eight hours later we were most willing to stuff delicious decadent junk down our gullets. Those were good moments creating friendships with fellow workers.

I don't remember everyone's name, but I do remember Anne. She loved to end her night at the Empire Diner (or begin it, but she was not nearly the party girl some of the other waitresses were). She was an extraordinarily beautiful woman. She seemed untouchable, though I rarely tried to seduce though I may have playfully flirted with fellow workers. Maybe I had the good sense not to make it an issue in our relationship: a friend and comrade suited us. Anne had bright blond hair and soft, fair skin. She wore a white fox fur coat she got very cheap second hand at a cool used clothing store on the second floor somewhere around 1st Ave. and maybe fifth or sixth. She loved the coat. She was mostly of good nature, which of course endeared her to everyone. I don't know how long she worked at Max's, but it was a long time before and then the few months after I worked there. John and her were very close. I figure it was probably platonic. She allowed him the use of her place to sleep or use the toilet and the bath. She was a Mom to him. Like day and night, she was best friends with another Max's waitress. She worked the club upstairs, eventually getting a few hours downstairs as well. I forget her name but not her face or her manner. Unlike Anne, she enjoyed the darkest side of Max's. She involved herself in drugs and sought companionship among the punk elite of the club. She was a much darker force, a darker sense of humor, a darker attitude, a darker presence. There were other people joining us, many who I now don't remember so well. One pretty curly locked chestnut haired girl was a bit egotistical. She was the one many of the drummers who hung out at Max's dated at certain times. Another pretty girl, perhaps more normal looking in her figure and her face, was a very good soul, who's company I enjoyed. She dated a busboy who was an occasional student at Columbia University and seemed quite a bright kid. He was the sort who pursued the high with an unusual passion. He would do MSG even! He was the one most likely to accompany me to the after hours clubs.

The after hours clubs I frequented were like local bars to me. They were often secretive places, dodging the eyes of the police in nondescript locales. But inside the same group of people would sit around and drink or dance on the dance floor, usually a major part of the space, to some rock 'n' roll which inevitably, and to me unfortunately, would transform, thru 'Heart Of Glass' or 'Hot Legs', into disco music. I remember four of these clubs pretty well.

The first post Max's club I went to was up on the second floor in a building just South of Union Square (Max's was just North of the Square). It was a small place and kind of glittery. I don't remember much about it, though. But it was the one club where the famous seemed to want to congregate. It's there that I saw Debbie Harry dancing with a friend of a friend (actually my Bard friend, John's friend). She was in coverall fatigues, looking indiscreet as hell, even wearing sunglasses I think and she moved her somewhat petite body to the music with my friend's friend, a tall guy, I think he was a bass player somehow playing in the scene. Also I saw David Johansen there making out with a girl even smaller than him under the pin ball machine. The guy who owned the club later set one up on 33rd Street near midtown. It was up on the third or fourth floor of some nondescript warehouse building. It was also pretty small, and even flashier with mirrors lining the dance floor. I remember seeing proof of the narcissistic behavior of some of my punk friends when they were often on the floor alone dancing with their reflected image. That may have occurred easier because the club was rarely busy. The other thing I remember about Zero, the name of the club, was my one encounter with angel dust. There was a wild girl who worked waitressing upstairs. She liked the dust. Of course it was the kind of drug my busboy friend would like, being some kind of bizarre chemical creation, so they tended to pal up. The couple times I sampled it was thru one or both of them. The first time I got a little wild myself, dancing insanely (or inanely). The second time was the last. I remember smoking it, maybe a little more than the time before. After that the next thing I was conscious of was walking along Broadway probably aimlessly. I found myself on some corner near Zero. There was time unaccounted for, probably over an hour. It was the first and last time my ! mind blanked. I didn't like it. I like to be in control to some extent and I figured how can I be in control if I don't know what's going on. Anything could have happened. I could have killed somebody and I'll never know. Angel dust may have been the cause or at least greatly assisted the death of that wild waitress. She drowned one early morning along Jones Beach.

The third club was 84. It was the address on E. 4th Street. I'm not positive but I think it was the same space where the early Dolls played. It was originally a transvestite club which, by the Dolls playing there, helped early on to establish their notoriety, there dark underbelly associations. When I went there, it was more of the decay of decadence feel. It was a large space, with several different types of rooms to pass thru, like a cheap version of Danceteria or the later Limelight. I've been to all of them and they all seemed to leave me cold, like they were trying too hard to be the place to be. The club had a bar where the regulars hovered, and often they seemed to give the history of the place in their aging large wrists and sequined dresses. Unlike most of the other clubs, I hazily recall some live music played there. Possibly the Fast, a great, fun gay group led by the Zone brothers, Miki and Paul. Paul was the pretty boy singer. Miki was a unique man, a guitarist who composed their fun little pop gems and liked to play with two drum sticks stuck up his nose. I think the Blessed played there as well. They were a group of high school pretty boys without much talent but with an awesome presence, especially the bass player, Howie Pyro, who was very pretty in his high black hair and played an ironic harp shaped bass. Walter Lure often played guitar with them, so they were a deep part of the scene for awhile. He may very well have been as interested in their youth and beauty as he was the music.

My favorite after hours club was on 4th avenue near 12th. It was close to Max's and to my place when I lived in the East Village. It was the least pretentious, the most like a neighborhood bar. The lighting was dark, the dance floor was relatively small and they had a great upstairs bar where you could relax or talk or stare off very comfortably. I remember one night when we all headed up to the second floor, which was closed off by an old door. The cops were checking it out, so we were quiet as mice, trying not to be there in any official way. That was rarely something we thought about. I don't remember a single raid in all my years in after hours clubs. Alot of my memories of those bars are memories of that bar. I remember dancing for a long time with a cute young woman in the little dance floor. We always got along in a flirtatious manner. I guess she was a prostitute. She and a couple other girls used to sit with Gene, the very cool manager at Max's for long evenings. I never knew for sure what they were about, but over time, it was inferred it was their occupation. Anyway, I always enjoyed her company, and part of the memory of that friendship was dancing with her. I don't recall the famous ones parading thru the place. Most of us were scenesters, musicians and hangers on. I think some of the fringe Hell's Angels who hung out at Max's would hang out there. They were good people who you would never call pussies or you would die. I'm sure John and the other Heartbreakers frequented the place. It was where, in the upstairs bathroom, I tried to find a vein for John and failed miserably. He had the most callused arms I've ever seen, and on his hand was a hill of a callous with a top peaking where the needle would go. Richard Lloyd would be there sometimes. He was being managed by an upstairs manager named Ivan, and not very well, who happened to be my roommate for a time, so I used to see Richard quite a bit. More on that later. Again, you didn't see what one might call the big stars. It was much too underground I guess. There was Neon Leon, a tall black rocker whose one claim to fame was a song with the word rock 'n' roll prominent in the chorus used in commercials for radio stations in New York and even in Minneapolis (KQRS). Jean Basquiat, who I knew as SAMO would hang out there sometimes with his gorgeously torn t-shirt. His graffiti was all over the East Village for awhile, little cryptic messages with political slants signed 'SAMO'. It was a good place for drink and to be around friends. And I just remembered the odd guy, a handsome devil with goatee and everything, who always carried a huge bag full of his hair stuff. He was a hair stylist, and I think he was either trying to get us oddballs as clients or was into some kind of coke scene there or both. Every once in awhile one of the amazingly beautiful blonde rockers would sit by this kind of creepy guy and he would brush her hair or something. Maybe it was a pick up thing. Probably. It's true that the women who hung out at Max's were sleazy, maybe a bit too promiscuous for one's health, maybe a bit coke whorish or just plain whorish, but they were often drop dead gorgeous. Even looking good in spandex (we called ourselves Max's Spandex City for the amount of that fabric there).

Sometimes we'd go down to the Mudd Clubb where they had an upstairs to hang out in. Though the people who were there were flamboyant, it wasn't much fun, mostly sitting around staring at each other.

One of the oddest things about after hours clubs was the drug availability. I mean, considering the abundance of illicit drugs streaming thru the circulatory systems of the customers in the clubs, there was rarely if ever a connection happening inside the walls. The drugs gotten there would almost have to be tainted, either weak or fake. And usually there just wasn't anything. Maybe some pharmaceuticals sometimes. Copping was, I guess for the daytime, partying was for the night.

One last post-Max's memory. Once when I was living in Brooklyn, in Flatbush, I had my usual drink at the end of the night, a gin gimlet, a bourbon or maybe a long island ice tea, and one of my fellow workers, probably the busboy, gave me a Qualude for the road. So I took it before the drink. It hit me as I walked to the subway. (One thing weird about working till four and partying till 8 was getting on a subway. You'll be on one platform by yourself and across the way there'll be a jam packed gathering of workers waiting impatiently for the train to bring them to work uptown.) I managed to get on the train and watched the stops go by until I passed out. I awoke several stops past mine, out in the rising sun with the train having gone elevated. When I got on the train going back, I nearly passed again, but managed somehow to rise in time for my stop.

Cliff Hausman


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Last modified: September 29, 1997

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