Michael Alig: 12 Years Later
Introducing the first installment of ‘Good Night Mr. Lewis,’ the singular nightlife column by New York legendarian Steve Lewis, now on BlackBook.
“The disgrace of others often keeps tender minds from vice” — Horace
For a long time I wasn’t allowed to contact Michael Alig, as I was finishing up my own ordeal. Then for a while, I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t necessarily want to look back, as I’ve spent so much of the last decade looking forward. Maurice Brahms, owner of the seminal clubs Infinity, the Underground, Bond’s Disco, and Red Zone, gave me a call a few weeks ago. He told me that Michael really wanted to see me and asked if I’d be up to it. I received a letter in early July from Michael that reconnected me deep inside. We were friends, we were partners, and despite the murder and Michael’s futile attempts to frame me when he was working as a confidential informant for the DEA, I felt I had to face him. I told Maurice I would go, and he handled the arrangements.
When I met Michael Alig, he was a busboy at Danceteria, and he was throwing a few small parties. We became friends. My wife Jennifer and I picnicked with Michael and his boyfriend Keoki Franconi in Central Park, we took road trips to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we had dinner parties. We became partners. We looked at the club world very differently than most. It was our vision to create the most insane clubs in history, open lots more of them, and get on TV and in the newspapers to tell the world about it. We hoped that disenfranchised kids in small towns across America would migrate to us. We would give them jobs, hook them up with places to stay, and grow a community of club kids. Drugs were never part of this plan. I didn’t do them, and in the beginning, neither did Michael. I at that time had a following of thousands, models, celebrities, and socialites. This, combined with Michael’s colorful maniacs, was just the right mix for success. Michael’s attachment to Peter Gatien provided the perfect strategic partner for the concept. Peter was bold and ambitious, and gave Michael everything he wanted. I never got along with Peter, but he was one of the better operators I’ve worked with, although not nearly as good as he thinks he is. He has no soul, and without one, you can only go so far. Then came the drugs, and that tale is publicized enough to not detail here. Michael became the Party Monster or Aligula, and eventually, inmate 97A6596 up in the Coxsackie Correctional Facility.
Maurice asked me to be gentle with Michael, knowing that I generally say what I want regardless of consequences. He painted a picture of a man in distress, in great physical and emotional pain. A wrong word from me could be devastating. I had decided to help Michael. I had decided to visit him and tell him the truth as I see it and follow through in the years to come. My girlfriend, a deeply religious gal who’s usually forgiving, wouldn’t have any part of it: “He’s a murderer, and you’ve told me that Michael is a chameleon — able to be whatever the person sitting in front of him wants him to be.” I’ve looked into the abyss Michael lives in, and if I can be of help in restoring him to the person I was friends with, the Michael I loved, then I needed to take that chance.
For days I thought of an approach, a plan, how I would talk to him, and then I freed myself and decided to let it play out. The two-and-a-half-hour ride through small upstate towns offered me time to appreciate my life. I was looking at 20 years at one point but dodged the bullet, and I watched families of wild turkeys and pointed out groundhogs and hawks and other animals to Maurice. We exchanged club war stories and “remember the times,” and then we got close. The facility loomed a quarter mile to the right. It could be nothing but a prison. Concertina wire gleamed in the noon sun. I noticed there was no flag, and I thought it odd. We registered with a sweet lady in a trailer next to the gate. She told us to leave everything back in the car as nothing was getting in. The guards had us wait, then buzzed us in. Passing through those big bad gates was tougher on me than I had expected. We filled out more forms, were searched, and allowed deeper into the facility. We registered again. We were told to sit at a table by the window
Finally I saw Michael. He was heavy, 190 pounds mostly in his gut, but his eyes were sharp and clear. We went to the vending machines and got him a yogurt and some Pop Tarts. All the salads were gone. He had become a vegetarian. Inmates look forward to the visiting room foods, which if nothing else offer variety from their daily fare. A lot of oh-my-gods and hugs, and we started talking. He explained to me the process of parole, and the time he may or hopefully may not serve; he’s done 12 years. He gets a real hard look at 13 and a half, and he’s hoping that will be the end. He’s had his ups and downs, misbehaved inside, and initially lost some of his “good time privileges.” But he’s done things to make up for it, and he’s really hopeful. I asked him about a story I’d heard that the day before one of his parole hearings, the man in charge asked him why there was so much interest in his case. Michael replied, “Haven’t you seen my movie?” and told the parole officer he had to see it. The next morning, the officer returned and was furious at Michael. Needless to say it didn’t turn out well. Michael wasn’t bragging or anything — but he was indeed the guy in that movie. I told Michael that above all else, he hasn’t shown as much remorse and regret as he needs to in order to get out. He broke down, saying that every day he wishes he could go back and undo what he did. I asked him if he ever apologized to the parents of Angel Melendez, his victim. He told me he wasn’t allowed to contact them, but that he feels deep sorrow for the pain he caused them. Angel was no angel. He was a drug dealer, and in my mind, a foul human being. He didn’t deserve to die, but he lived a lifestyle where people do wake up dead.
Michael told me that New York magazine was coming up to interview him, and I told him that he must start preparing for his life on the street. He knows he’ll never club again despite rumors that he will return and lead the way. He knows they’ll never let him. He’s writing a book, and next time I go up, he’s going to pick my brain, fill in some blanks. He’s also interested in doing charity work, even while inside.
This isn’t a puff piece for my long lost friend: I know what happened. Michael stole $2,000 dollars from Angel Melendez. He came to my office and counted it at a desk across from me. I asked him where he got the money, and he told me that Peter Gatien had finally paid him some money owed. I begged him to take that money and use it for rehab. I told him I would get the rest — whatever he needed to get straight. He was sober, coherent; a rare eye in the storm his life had become. He mumbled and acknowledged it was the thing to do but … I hadn’t talked to Michael in a long time. He was out of control, liable to take a piss right on a desk or in a corner of the office.
It was late, and I was commuting to Philly. When Michael left, I found Peter in his office. I asked him why he would give such a large sum of money to Michael in his current state, since it could kill him. Peter denied giving him the money. I always mistrusted Peter’s words, but I could see he was concerned as he looked up at the sky and asked me redundantly where Michael could have gotten the cash.
A night or two later, I was standing on the balcony at Limelight, watching dancers dance. I was angry about a girlfriend problem or something like that when Michael pranced over to me. He asked to borrow my car. I asked him why. He told me he had killed Angel and was going to chop him up and put him in a box, and he needed to use my car to transport the body to the river. I didn’t believe a word of it and told him to go way. In the days to come, everyone heard a similar tale. He went from club kid to club kid, and even Michael Musto wrote about it.
I called the cops. I believed it happened and the cops investigated. They say they found no trace. I’ve always wondered how they could find no trace. Either they didn’t look very hard, or someone a lot more capable than Michael cleaned things up. Another possibility is that Michael had already flipped, and the DEA and those types had no interest in a murder charge against their star witness in the case they were building against Peter Gatien, and yes, myself.
DJ Derrick Fox, a longtime friend, thought it was wrong of me to visit Michael because Derrick was friends with Angel. I told him I had to try to help an old friend buried not too deep within the fiend. Derrick agreed: I needed to go. Michael is sick. He’s having problems with nerves which are becoming increasingly deadened. Prisons don’t provide much in the way of medical care. Mike’s been in a dozen years, and cellphones and computers and the way we talk and act has all changed while he counts minutes locked in a small room. I told Mike that he would never be allowed to forget what he did, and that he mustn’t even try. He will get out with many years left, and I hope I can point him in the right direction. When I was walking out of the visiting room, I watched him clean the table where we sat, and I saw how little he has to cling to, to hope for. I’m not asking anyone to forgive him. I’m just saying we all have monsters living close within us. A few drinks, a bout with drugs, a bad decision, and you or I could be cleaning up crumbs up in Coxsackie.