Friday, March 9, 2012

An ancient story

Late-afternoon romance. 4:45 PM. Photo: JH.
Friday, March 9, 2012. A sunny Spring day, yesterday in New York with temperatures in the upper 60s.

We have a scandal running in the papers here in New York. By the papers I mean the two tabloids, the Post and the News, about a woman named Anna Gristina who has been accused of running a prostitution business. You’re surprised there was prostitution in New York? You always thought that was against the law, like brokers stealing customers’ accounts (MF Global) and calling it “vaporizing.” I wondered what Mrs. Gristina should call her thing. Maybe Sorry Wrong Number.

Although unlike the boys (and probably some girls too) involved in the vaporizing of $1.6 billion of Other People’s Money over at old MF Global, Mrs. Gristina had to be handcuffed in court.

Anna Gristina (Steven Hirsch, NY Post).
I first heard about the case from my friend Joanna Molloy who had found a picture of Mr. Gristina on the NYSD. That was a marriage from quite some time ago, Mr. has since remarried. So maybe has Mrs.; I’m not sure.

There’s something kind of ancient about this story, considering that nowadays otherwise ordinary people advertise themselves in public. They stand in front of the bathroom mirror and photograph themselves with their iPhones, with nothing on, and state just exactly their sexual preferences and pleasures are (and it ain’t Proust). I don’t think it’s illegal.

Whether they charge for an eye-witness experience or not; nothing would surprise me. A center of commerce is a center of commerce. This is now ordinary in terms of sphere of interest in our society today, and available to anyone. I recall the first time I channel surfed into Robin Byrd one night when I was first back in New York.

You could call it shocking, especially if you didn’t know about this kind of stuff on TV. My first thought was that it was after eleven o’clock and there were probably kids up watching these mostly, if not entirely, naked men and women dancing around dangling their wares.* Later I asked a young friend  of mine who’d grown up in the city if he ever watched Robin Byrd’s late night when he was a kid, "Oh yeah," was the answer. And what did you think, was my next question. “I thought it was funny,” he said. New York kids have always been more sophisticated about the ways and wares of the night.

*Later I learned one of the girls landed a bachelor millionaire of an advanced age who had seen her on the show and called a number and introduced himself. He was a guy in his 70s, never married. Rich, solo.  About a year later he married her and subsequently died, leaving her a pile of dough.

Madam Alex in court.
A lot of us are hypocrites when it comes to sex. Yet the internet is still driven by the pornography. It’s always been called it the oldest profession. This all presumes that Mrs. Gristina is guilty of what she’s been accused of, which is basically involved in the commerce of selling sex. “Connecting” people is how its termed. She’s in the slammer because they’re afraid she’s going to skip town and run off to Canada. Evidently she’s got a lot of money. Millions maybe. She paid her taxes, no? I hope so. Unless it came from winning the Lottery.

It’s too bad it’s come to this. This sort of public/legal thing always seems like such a charade, all things considered. Of course there are a lot of powerful, rich men who pay for sex. Even a lot of poor guys do if they think they can dig up the scratch. Others, of course, don’t; don’t want to, don’t feel like it, have a headache, etc. It sounds pretty consensual, so where's the crime, who's to blame? It confounds.

When I lived out in LA, around the bend and just up the hill on Doheny Drive, there lived a lady known (I later found out) as Madam Alex. I’d lived there for quite some time when she moved in to her hillside house overlooking the canyon.

I had no idea who she was. I sometimes saw her outside her house when I was walking my dogs up the road. Kind of a stout and uninterested-looking woman, dark hair pinned up around her skull; probably in her early sixties, cotton housecoat covering her, old fluffy blue slippers on her feet. She almost shuffled when she walked. I could tell by her manner that she wasn’t friendly in a neighborly sense at least.
Madame Alex's house is that one square (the garage door) at the end of that stretch of the road - the beginning of another sharp curve on upper Doheny. My house was on the lower far right. The tall solitary building nearby is the Sierra Tower on Doheny Road, and beyond Century City and the Pacific in the distance.
Occasionally I’d also see a good looking man in his – probably – mid-thirties standing in the driveway by a car, and a very good looking California blonde about the same age. I wondered if they were brother and sister because they kind of looked alike. And were they the off-spring of the shuffling, disinterested lady in the housecoat? I never found out.

Almost every day following as I did that canine regimen of mine because there was an actual sidewalk on that part of the road, I’d see really beautiful young women drive up to the house. They were all knock-outs; Jackie Smith types. They'd park, go in, and a few minutes later they’d be gone. Brunettes mainly; spectacular. They all seemed to drive black BMWs. Always shining; no matter who you are in L.A., you are your car.

Once there was a blonde all got up in a white leather cowgirl suit with lots of fringe, and white boots and hat. A Nicole Simpson type California blonde. I happened to be walking by as she was arriving. In a white BMW. She ran up to the doorway as if late for a very important date. Banging on the doorbell. I could see she was anxious; was there retribution for tardiness awaiting our platinum cowgirl on the other side of that door? I got that feeling.

I continued my walk up the hill with the dogs, and when I came back down a few minutes later, she had gone into the house. Her car was still there when I made the same walk by the next day. I never learned what the story was with her.

Tom Sizemore with Heidi Fleiss, Madam Alex's successor.
I first learned of Madam Alex by this name from her gardener who worked also for a neighbor across the road from me. He said he loved working for her because she paid him in cash and sometimes he worked no more than fifteen minutes when she’d come out on her terrace above and tell him he could go. Then she would throw some bills off the terrace and they’d float to the ground as he picked them up. Once there were eight $100 bills. I learned then who she was, as well as who all those beautiful, luscious looking brunettes in the dark BMWs (and that one platinum missile) were.

And so it was until one night around nine or so, when Madam Alex was having dinner on trays in front of the TV (as the story was later reported to me) with a friend – a well known Hollywood persona who had known the lady for quite some time – when suddenly the neighborhood was inundated with helicopters, police cars, unmarked cars, all pulling up in front of Madam Alex’s house, from which emerged a SWAT team armed and ready for business.

The whole neighborhood was suddenly aware of the hullabaloo. Then it was quiet and not very much later, they took her away and threw her in the clink. She was arraigned with a million dollar bail set on her. The New York papers called her the “Mayflower Madam” of the West Coast. Her legal name was Elizabeth Adams. It was soon out on the gossip vine that her clientele were some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Well, duh.

By now you could probably tell me who Madam Alex’s clients were – the famous ones anyway. Now you know Heidi Fleiss and she were on the same page.

Now you probably even know something about some of the sexual habits of her clientele because people love to talk about that stuff, and nowadays people write about it, even make it up. I recalled one night when three shiny black stretch Cadillac limousines came up the road like a royal cortege, a parade of luxury.

They stopped by the curb in front of Madam Alex’s house. From them emerged sixteen to twenty Arabs. They were still there when I came back down the hill with the dogs. They were gone the next day. You see what I mean? Who knows. Only the Shadow do.
The Trumbauer house (later called the Olympic House) on 57 Park Avenue, built for Mrs. Adelaide Douglas for JP Morgan.
Back in the Gilded Age before there was porn on the web or pole-dancing strip clubs, there were houses of ill-repute or to be put in more basic terms, whorehouses in New York (and every other town across America). The best of them in New York were located in the Murray Hill area of the city. Perhaps not ironically, in 1910, JP Morgan built an Horace Trumbauer-designed townhouse (still standing) right on the edge of Murray Hill (and right around the corner from his own house where his wife resided also, for his mistress Mrs. Adelaide Douglas of Douglaston. Mrs. D and her husband led separate lives. She had more than one affair, carried out discreetly, of course. She had known old Jack Morgan for years when he settled his eyes on her. He was sixteen years older but she wasn’t getting any younger. And the Douglases were not rich by any means. When Morgan died three years later, he left Mrs. Douglas a half million dollar trust fund (approximately $45 million in today’s currency).

She of course was never under suspicion of anything but perfect goodness. The fact that he built her a mansion (with a back entrance where he could come and go discreetly) didn’t seem out of the ordinary. He wanted to, what could she say? Besides everybody liked her. Same with her mentor who even kept her husband in comfort. Just like Louis XIV.  Everybody liked him for it too. Or rather, feared him. So, anything goes.
The house today, now the Guatemalan Consulate to the United Nations.
By the 1890s, many a swell spent many an hour after office or even before, partaking of the delights of the houses on Murray Hill,  where a boy could always stop in before he went home for dinner with the Mrs. in the mansion on Fifth Avenue. If it’s true that Mrs. Gristina is guilty of that for which she is being accused, you can see how much better off she would have been in those days. The only cuffs she’d be wearing would be diamonds. Gifts of one of those “perps.” Like JP Morgan, for instance, or one of his ilk.

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