Harlan Strundley could sling the bull back in high school like nobody’s business.
Back then, Craig Bugowski liked to occasionally hang out with Harlan and the crew on the weekends because, frankly, you are only young once, and New York City is a tempting playground for those who can afford it and even for those like Craig, who couldn’t really afford it, but who were adventurous enough to tag-along for the ride.
It was alternately entertaining and humorous at times at Trader Vics over Tiki Puka Pukas and Spider Bowls to hear Ol’ Harlan pontificate, exaggerate but not entirely fabricate a wild story or tall tale. His dad was the super-successful corporate lawyer Rand Strundley who gave Harlan free reign to get into as much shit as he liked. Divorce can do that to a parent. Harlan had credit cards, coke and considerable clout on the NYC social scene. He could be outrageous and dramatic and hard to take in large doses but “Strundley,” as he was universally known, was no nut. He was a dream weaver and a gentleman and a scoundrel, a criminal and a heroic sort who knew how to throw down a credit card or sweet-talk a waitress or calm down an irate restaurant manager right before things got really ugly.
Would Harlan throw a shopping cart into a snowy street just to see what crazy shit would happen? (Fortunately, nothing did!) Yes. Yes, he would.
Yes, it’s true Harlan had some pent up anger toward his parents and that undoubtedly fueled his rebellious acts of idiocy. Hey, at least the guy got it straightened out later in life and became a top litigator. But the line between genius and insanity–truth and fiction– was never more clear than when Harlan Strundley was performing to a table of attractive women.
The young ladies in accompaniment dressed in their finest seemed to approve and appreciate men of some means who wore ties and jackets and splash of Pierre Cardin behind the ear attended tony private schools and had their shit together, at least enough to pay for their drinks. They knew the score. Pussy. That was what it was all about, in high school, anyway. Getting underneath those stockings. Under those cotton panties. Just as important as not getting kicked out of high school, getting into a good college or finding a successful career and not embarrassing your parents. Pot, coke, nitrous oxide and booze. The 80’s. Crazy but not too crazy. Yeah, Robert Chambers hung out with our crowd at Dorrian’s and the Surf Club, and he killed that girl…so, yeah, these were not completely innocent times without real victims.
Harlan would bullshit the bouncers at Xenon and Studio 54 and before you knew it you were cutting in front of 50 people who had been waiting there for an hour in the frigid NYC air.
Maybe he slipped the bouncer a $50 bill or maybe an eight ball. I didn’t know or care. I was just happy to get inside, and waste part of my youth being wasted and hanging out with future masters of the universe who knew that their family money and power gave them a free-hand to push the envelope and speak pretentiously with clenched teeth and a knowing wink that this would all be a past memory soon enough. A moment in time that most young people understand theoretically but don’t fully comprehend. When you are a high school Senior, accepted into a college, there is a tendency to feel a tad bit indestructible. Like a young god walking the earth. It doesn’t last long but while it does, it’s a pretty motherfucking good feeling. What is real and what is perceived is what amounted to reality back then. No hindsight or foresight. Just NOW. Screwdrivers and Kamikazes and joints passed around and make-out sessions and fun, unprotected sex with pretty girls who lived on Park Avenue were what the high school kids I knew, at least, engaged in–in the ’80s– well before AIDS changed everything and scared the fuck out of everybody.
Today Facebook and social media allow one to create an ideal persona. A virtual illusion that is more stagecraft than the truth. In middle age now, Craig appreciated the truth. A simple thing as it is but more powerful than anything but love.
J Rappington Welton IV was just like Harlan when it came to spinning a story so fantastic as to completely strain credulity.
Spell-binding. Yes, perhaps, in the same way one watches, observes and listens to a car siren. The intensity and unexpected randomness of the moment force you to retreat into oneself, into the safe realm of sanity.
Nodding and taking it all in. Each fantastic detail that fell from JRW4’s mouth made Craig think of Harlan.
Unbelievable coincidences and harrowing situations that devolve into madness were JRW4’s offering at the Basil Street Bar.
It felt like a nightmare. A bad dream. Like Craig’s head might explode.
This guy was way off the reservation. Worse than Harlan, worse than art-world enfant terrible Manfred Gogol. Craig couldn’t tell if half of what J Rappington Welton IV was saying to him was the product of an insane mind, the ramblings of a pathological liar, the words of a professional conman or just BS from someone who liked to exaggerate and perform. One who felt as though all the world’s a stage.
Craig had been through the wringer the past couple of years and crazy was not fun, crazy was not cool, crazy was a little too dangerous while Craig was attempting the biggest career shift of his life. How the fuck did they always find him. Clients who were cuckoos, women from another planet…what did Craig do to deserve this latest test?
“I’ve OD’d three times.”
“My heart has stopped and started again on three separate occasions.”
“That’s crazy J-Rap.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Are you for real?”
“Listen, brother, if my roommate Shiskali Veramoose hadn’t karate-chopped me 10 times on my carotid artery to get my heart kick-started after 4 minutes- I was gone, baby gone.”
“Holy shit! Really? That’s insane.”
“Listen Bugowski, there’s a lot you don’t know about me… I was Calvin Klein’s youngest underwear model when I was 16…one of the other male models hit on me and I busted his face…cost him the contract. I got sued..had to pay for him and his kid and it ended up costing me all my modeling money…but I became the kid’s godfather and…holy shit– you see that fire truck out the window that’s from the 4-12…they shouldn’t be in this neighborhood must be a code purple–I was once a fireman in the 4-3…Also, the youngest ever to be accepted into the FDNY. I was on a training mission and I saw a building on fire in the Boogie Down Bronx. Ran in and brought out a family of Dominicans. I was high as a kite, maybe that’s why I was able to do it. Mayor Dinkins gave me a certificate of distinction for bravery. Once my family found out about it they forced me to quit and go into the family business which was running speakeasies. I was hanging with the club kids and scoring bags of skag in Harlem on 125th street and half out of my mind.
“Wow, that’s fucking crazy JRap. I met the club-kids over the years. As a journalist, I met that one who killed and chopped up that other dealer.
“I used to hang with the murder victim his name was Angel he was an asshole. Not saying he deserved to die but he was definitely an annoying fuck. I was with both of them 2 nights before the murder shooting up in a back-alley near the Pyramid Club in Alphabet city. Not proud of those days. Wait a minute got to take this phone call.
“Red Rover, Red Rover this is Sheboygan Joe”
Bugowski watched the histrionic exchange across the table while sucking down a Blue Moon.
“You tell Missy Girl that she needs to wait until I get a lawyer over there to bail her out and she should not say shit to anybody until the fixer gets over to the 62 to get her ass out of there and you tell her I want her at my apartment “stat” tomorrow at 4 pm. She’s getting super messy and I can’t have that.”
Bugowski wondered to himself if there was really another person on the other end of the line.
“Red Rover, Red Rover this is Sheboygan Joe–you tell Missy I just texted the fixer…he’ll be there in 30 minutes and to keep her panties on. Ok…I’m with a business associate. Got to go.”
“Sorry about that,” said JRW4 as he grabbed the last chicken wing.
No problem. So what were the other times you OD’d?”
Dude, there’s going to be plenty of time to go over that stuff if we make this deal.” Let’s just say, Chuck Palahniuk came up with the idea for Fight Club from a mutual friend who knew that I was always getting high, getting into fights and trying to make some scrilla from it.”
“That was a good movie.”
“I was the Brad Pitt character…I met him and hung out with him for a couple of weeks in H-Wood– we even went a couple of rounds…I broke his nose…Almost got sued up the ass but the director was there and Pitt was cool about it…they just took him to a plastic surgeon I’m friends with and no one was the wiser.”
“Oh shit, JRap–I just realized I got to jet…did you want to split this?”
“Fuck, let me call my girl Juniper Starfire and see if she can venmo me some cash. I lost my wallet this morning on my friend’s boat.”
“Don’t worry about it, man. I got it.”
“Good man. Excited to close this deal and make us both super-rich motherfuckers.”
Those were the words that came out of Bugowski’s mouth. Words he could not actually believe he was saying out loud.
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