6 – The candy man



            It took me many years to realize what Tom’s role was, and why he was so popular with the dancers and workers at the bar – this coming long after I ceased seeing any of that crowd, and had been a decade covering the news beat in Secaucus.

            Tom was the candy man, providing the bar with its drugs as well as an assortment of other ill gotten goods from concert tickets and tickets to Meadowlands sports events to things that fell off the some truck in the warehouses of Secaucus.

            While Tom apparently wasn’t the only source of drugs, he had a good supply of quality stuff that kept him in demand whenever he showed up.

            It was hard to tell if he operated as exclusively as an agent of organized crime or whether this was something he did as a side line, skimming something off from his job at the Meadowlands. Most likely, he operated somewhere in between,  meeting his quota of sales for his mob bosses while getting a little for himself that they knew nothing about.

            He and his customers understood that cocaine made the difference as to whether or not a man got lucky with one of the girls, even more than money, but the combination of cash and coke always guaranteed that one girl or another would do a man after hours.

            But the man had to have an ample supply, enough to tease the girl during working hours so that she could expect more later.

            More than a few disputes erupted over a man’s giving a girl a bribe during her set only to have her take off with another man later – generally fearing the first guy didn’t have enough cocaine for later after all.

            This cocaine economy was true of most popular pick up bars and discos during the 1970s and 1980s – a fact I was blissfully ignorant of at the time, explaining why I got lucky as little as I did during those years.

            Peggy was a party girl even before she left high school. Her classmates claimed she loved dancing and music, anywhere but at school.

            Graduating in 1977 at the height of the party era when drinking was still legal at 18 years old, Peggy leaped into the bar circuit with her best friend Marsh, gobbling up cocaine and men as if both were candy.

            She and Marsh got the best of everything, and often met important people, celebrities, sports stars, mobsters that provided them with a steady flow of quality cocaine and a taste for expensive things poorer fools like me could never afford to supply.

            By her mid-twenties, Peggy was already aging out of that market as those men sought out younger girls, but she was stuck with expensive tastes and an addition to cocaine.

            Although Peggy later claimed she didn’t mind when her best friend Marsha got married, she made a point of telling Marsha’s husband at the weeding that he had simply gotten lucky, a hint at the immense bitterness Peggy must have felt in losing her barhopping side kick.

            Procurement of cocaine to that point had been largely a two person operation, and less a necessity than an entertainment. She and Marsh would go from club to club, picking and choosing who they would sleep with as long as the men had cocaine to offer. They were a pretty pair and men gave them whatever they asked for.

            Once Marsha settled down, Peggy had to fend for herself, and she was no longer young enough to string men along the way she had with Marsha.

            Strip clubs must have seemed like a Godsend to her because it allowed – no required – Peggy to fly solo.

            She found that she could continue to feed her drug habit as a stripper – provided she could keep from falling into the trap many other strippers eventually fell into. She clearly did not want to become a prostitute, and technically, she never did.

            She claimed she had other means of procuring drugs, which I would later learn more about, although as with many of her claims such as her claim at having a day job as an account – she tended to exaggerate, leaving some question as to the validity of her stories.

            I was never sure if what Peggy said about herself was really about herself of something she compiled from other people, creating some kind of alternative reality that allowed her to keep her real self safely hidden,

            Not everything I learned about Peggy came as a result of one-on-one conversations.

            She conducted on going dialogues with a number of us from the stage and while she probably knew my face I doubt she knew my name. To her, I was just “one of the boys,” a concept that would come to haunt me later. It wasn’t until 1986 eased into 1987 that we connected as individuals.

            Yet during those early encounters, I learned a lot, much of which surprised me, and I became puzzled by the number of inconsistencies in her tales.

            She claimed she attended Montclair State College, thought when pressed she squirmed a bit and said she never finished. She also said she always went to church on Sundays.

            “Except in football season, I never miss a Giants’ game,” she said.

            She also claimed she attended the First Presbyterian Church of Wallington. While there was a Presbyterian Church, the First Presbyterian Church was actually in Garfield.

            She claimed to be of Ukrainian heritage, and though there was a Yacyniak family in Garfield and Passaic whose ancestors had immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine, she appears not to be related to them. Her grandparents, George and Mary had come to America from Poland.

            Her most audacious claim was that she was a member of the Republican Party and in fact had worked on the previous campaign as an organizer. She expressed undying loyalty to President Ronald Reagan, a man I despised.

            She also claimed that she spent a couple of nights a week as a volunteer for the United Way as a speech therapist.

            Although the details sometimes varied, Peggy’s stories did fit together, building a kind of mythology that most of us could accept in this world where alcohol did a lot to dull our desire for credibility.

            One night, Peggy was upset over the fact that her boss at her straight job had offered her a promotion.

            “He wants to make me a supervisor,” she said.

            “What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

            “I don’t know how I could tell anybody that they’re fired,” she said.




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