Cocaine and Me: A Memoir

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

Tania and Maria later kept me dizzy bringing them coffee, tubes of lubricant, sundry toiletries, and tawdry gossip about hotel customers. They occasionally rewarded me with a clinic on how blowjobs should be properly administered. One of the wildest things they taught me: Take a common rubber glove, fill it with water, tie the end closed, and freeze it overnight. "When rock solid, break off the fingers and insert the ice in your girlfriend's pussy after sex," they urged me. "Ay que rico," they cooed, swearing it kept them tingling on the sultriest nights.

On another evening, I was called to a room where I'd already delivered Vita Bath to the occupants three times. The hotel guest was a pickled Latin porker in his autumn of self-destruction. He wore a gold coke spoon on a choker and had been splashing around in the Jacuzzi with two scrawny girls who looked like they might still be in high school. He was trying to "get the bubbles right."

When I knocked on the door with more bubble bath and towels, I was fuming because the guy had been giving me attitude and hadn't tipped me. One of the girls opened the door, naked and dripping wet, and signaled toward the tub.

"I dropped my gun in the water. Can you get it for me?" the man pleaded.

"Climb out of the tub and I'll use a wire hanger to try," I responded.

He wouldn't cooperate. "No, the bubbles are good now. We're stayin' inside."

I stripped to my underwear and went bobbing for his Beretta while the guy and his girlfriends leaned back in the sprawling Jacuzzi and jabbered like coked-up parrots. I was expecting a royal tip when I finally came up with his piece, but they waved me off with an offer of some warm Dom Perignon from a nearly empty bottle.

Most of the truly big-time dealers back then struck me as being insanely generous. They commonly doled out hundred-dollar tips to the valets, waitresses, and housekeeping staff. I would sometimes net more in tips on a given week than my entire month's salary. Employees fawned over the popular big spenders, or magnates as they were called.

A childhood friend named Celia was dating one of the city's rising dealers. His name was Manolito and he was a ruthless thug who'd been the leader of a local street gang, the Utes, and had a reputation for being trigger-happy. He once fired a shotgun into a crowd of Hialeah rivals during a quince party in Miami Beach.

Manolito, who was in his early twenties, was working for an uncle in the "shrimping business" and apparently had been involved in major trafficking. Suddenly the guy was driving a new Corvette and picking up tabs all over town. Celia showed off a shiny new Volvo and diamond tennis bracelet he'd given her for her birthday.

One night at his house, while Maritza and Celia cooked dinner, he asked me to take a drive with him. When I climbed into the car, Manolito pulled a 9mm handgun from under the seat and passed it to me. I felt my heart begin to pound and wondered what was about to happen.

We stopped at a Chinese restaurant in Westchester, and as he got out with a taped paper bag the size of a football, which I assumed was a kilo of coke, he said, "Carlos, don't sweat it. Just start firing if I signal you." I nearly soiled the front seat but didn't utter a peep when he came out of the place grinning.

Manolito behaved as if it were perfectly natural to invite someone along to a transaction where gunfire might break out. But I wasn't comfortable with weapons and was appalled he expected me to be the one doing the shooting. My knees turned to Jello when I realized the restaurant was full of unsuspecting families having dinner and that his casual deal could have resulted in a bunch of people wounded or killed. I didn't want Manolito to think I was some wimp, though, and he thanked me for watching his back. After our meal at his home, he threw his arm around my shoulder and gave me a big bouche of blow for my trouble.

Not long after that, Celia invited us to a first-communion celebration for one of Manolito's nephews. Maritza and I were dazed by the garish opulence. It was a steak-and-lobster deal at the Sonesta Beach Resort, with bottles of Dom Perignon and Chivas Regal on every table.

We had to enter through a gazebo covered in flowers, and all the women were met by the lad-of-honor's mother, who pinned orchids on lapels. The men received gift-wrapped silver Zippos engraved with the six-year-old's initials and the date of his communion.

A gaudy carousel circled inside the banquet hall while professionally coifed and made-up children dressed in tuxes and gowns rode on it, screeching giddily. A private suite for the men was stocked with a full bar, a porcelain soup tureen full of cocaine, and a gaggle of escorts hired to keep everyone entertained. Rooms had been reserved for most of the kids and their families. I heard that the bill ran into the tens of thousands, and I remember thinking Manolito's boat had definitely come in.

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