Cocaine and Me: A Memoir

It all began when I got that job at the Mutiny Hotel

An older Cuban guy named Sammy, a "retired piano player" living permanently in the $180-a-night Egyptian room, tapped me regularly to bring him quacks (Quaaludes) since he suffered "a sleep allergy" — from all the cocaine he ingested. Everyone knew that Sammy was a close associate of Rudy Rodriguez's and that the dealer was covering his bills. (Cops would later identify Sammy as Rodriguez's personal, in-house pianist.) Sammy was a stringy-haired, strung-out eccentric who draped himself in satin bathrobes and wore a jeweler's loupe on a frayed cord around his neck to make sure he wasn't getting gypped on quality. I once saw him eyeing a mound of coke on a table through the loupe, mentioning that the stuff was "pinkish" and flaked with iridescent escamas (fish scales). "You can tell this is excellent coke," he pointed out.

Sammy didn't show the same fastidiousness when it came to his living arrangements or his personal hygiene. He never let the maids into his room, which was a pigsty, but no one dared say a word. Sammy looked like a fossil and smelled like a mixture of mold, mothballs, and stale sweat. He might have been in his fifties, and even though he was toothpick skinny, the flesh on his face was puffy and drooped like a pelican's. He appeared closer to seventy.

"The best cure for a Peruvian flake hangover," he told me, was to pour four fingers of vodka into a blender with three Quaaludes. "It's the best, kid! Try this," he cackled, spraying the foul bromide everywhere from a whirring, crusty Osterizer.

Several nights a week I drove to an Overtown spot off NW Eighth Street and I-95 called "Precinct" to buy bootleg Quaaludes for Sammy, who made me swear to keep quiet about his vodka-and-quack nightcaps. "If Rudy finds out I'm eating so many, he's going to be furious," Sammy warned me. "We have to be careful, Carlitos." Suddenly finding myself a co-conspirator in his taboo consumption, and not wanting to provoke the wrath of his drug-baron buddy, I obliged.

I didn't own a private membership and couldn't get into the Mutiny Club after work because they were very strict about checking. Instead I'd party at Honey for the Bears up the road, where the doorman knew Maritza. Even though I was underage, I was never carded at any of the clubs (Scaramouche at the Omni was another favorite) since my thick mustache made me look older and Maritza was obviously in her twenties.

Honey, on SW 27th Avenue a few blocks south of U.S. 1 in the Grove, was always jumping and stayed as frosted as an Aspen ski slope, everyone brazenly tooting away. Barry White, Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, and Al Green kept the dance floor packed. People did lines on tables and shared a hit from their little coke bottles while waiting for drinks at the bar. Wherever you turned, someone offered you a spoonful of cariño (love) out of politeness. It was the new etiquette, and few declined. Mirrored disco balls, a blaring sound system, and kaleidoscopic lights made your head twirl.

In the bathrooms, men and women mingled, passing around joints. It was considered rude to smoke outside since the place could get raided if you lit up in the parking lot. If you didn't have blow, you could often score un gramito from industrious restroom attendants. But most of us were aware that if you sprung for some rounds at the bar, you could end up snorting for free.

It was common at such nightclubs in those days for a group of swaggering cocaine cowboys and their side chicks to walk in, flash wads of cash, order the bar closed for the rest of the night, and cover the tab for everyone inside. It was also common to see a loaded, hotheaded jerk whip out a pistol from under his jacket and yell to a rival dealer: "I'm going to plant you right here!" Cries of terror would clear out the joint faster than a raid.

But the Mutiny was hands-down the Taj Mahal of debauchery. And as it happened, much of what I'd heard about the Mutiny Club hostesses was true. They were young, stunningly beautiful, and gorgeously attired. They also were required to wear outlandish hats while on duty; owner Goldberg had a fetish about it. Most looked like elegant centerfold models before undressing for a photo shoot.

Officially they were hired to infuse the club with a cosmopolitan, jet-set vibe while serving cocktails and mingling with patrons. Many seemed innocent enough and didn't linger around the hotel after work, but I soon discovered that some of the hostesses were depraved.

After a couple of months at the hotel, I met Bernie, a balding, middle-age Cuban guy who twirled up what was left of his hair like a Dairy Queen soft cone. Bernie loved the red, white, and black "Hollywood" room on the hotel's fourth floor, where one night he was partying with hostesses Tania and Maria. The girls called me to bring them some double coladas.

They turned out to be quintessential Miami sucias (dirty girls), who were douching with the cafecito because it drove Bernie wild. The guy insisted I stay and watch. One of the girls promised me a "nasty blowjob" if I would. "Kid, things are gonna heat up now," Bernie murmured. I bolted when he leaned toward me as if he were going to kiss me.

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