Episode 13: My Return To Detroit…
So, the last I left off I was still in New York and had just hit some major scores in the check fraud racket, which allowed me to sit back for a few weeks. It was around this time I applied for a job bouncing at a strip club called “Flashdancers.” The manager, a guy named Nunzio, was connected to my people in Brooklyn so he hired me on the spot. It was a great job for a 22-year-old young hustler. The girls loved me, the patrons loved me, and the people I worked with loved me. I even met Howard Stern in there a couple times. But New York wasn’t my home and I began to miss Detroit more and more each day. I especially missed my real friends, the ones I had grown up with, the ones who knew the real me. Back home I was a someone. Or at least I felt like it. In New York I felt like a nobody, an outsider. And I was.
I think the game-changer for me was in 1996, when a friend back home told me he had tickets to a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas. He and some of the guys from the old neighborhood wanted me to meet them down there for the fight. I figured, what the hell, it was Mike Tyson. I was a Tyson fan. Why not? I ended up flying down to meet them, and it felt good to reunite with my old crew. We laughed and joked and told old war stories about the countless fights we had gotten into and caused in high school. I felt, for a brief moment, like I was back home where I belonged. The shitty part about that trip was that Tyson fought a clown named Bruce Sheldon, who caught one minor hook from Tyson after a minute into the fight and ended up throwing in the towel. I never saw such a cowardly act from a fighter. Tyson literally scared him into throwing the fight. The only eventful thing that happened that night was Tupac got shot after the fight. I remember seeing all the cops and chaos in the streets. When I heard it was because Tupac had been shot, I remember saying to my boys,
“He will be alright. He’s been shot before.”
Unfortunately, I was wrong. He died 6 days later. And the craziest part was that I had met him at the All Star Café a few weeks previous, when I was there for an album drop party for the band “Mo Jazz,” which was famous for having a bass guitar player named Wayman Tisdale, who at the time was also an NBA player for the Phoenix Suns.
It was also about this time that I got a call from home telling me that the federal indictment against me had been dismissed. Apparently, friends of friends had been able to “convince” the star witness to recant his claim that I had extorted him, and instead declare that he had in fact stolen his own father’s gun collection to cover a gambling and drug debt. I was now free to return home, if I so chose.
I was having a great time in NYC, but I was also getting homesick. And it all culminated one night when I got off work at the club. It was a beautiful summer night and the city was still alive with activity—New York really is the city that never sleeps. It was so nice that I decided to walk the 30 or so blocks to my apartment on the upper west side. I enjoyed people watching, and as I came up Broadway I noticed a huge crowd gathered at Lincoln Square. I could hear a sort of old jazz tune playing loudly on the other side of the crowd. When I pushed my way through the gawkers, I saw there was a ballroom dance event going on. It didn’t matter that it was 3:00 AM in the morning. Several dozen beautiful couples danced away as the crowd watched. I was mesmerized, as I had never seen such dancing before. They looked so graceful, so elegant, so happy. They were clearly having the time of their lives. It immediately made me miss the girlfriend I had back home, a girl I’d been with for over 6 years. Of course, I also had a goomar in New York but she just wasn’t my girl, who I genuinely loved and missed. So that was it. After watching those couples dance and enjoy a romantic evening out on the town, I made the decision I was going home. I was done with New York. I was ready to get back home to my girlfriend, my crew, to trees, fresh air and good fishing.
The next morning, I told my sister, an aspiring actress, that I’d had enough of New York and decided I was going home. She was not surprised, for she knew my heart was back in Detroit. A week later, I boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Detroit. But right away something interesting happened. As I was sitting on the bus, listening to my headphones and waiting for the rest of the passengers to board, I saw a cute girl about my age come walking towards me. She had a distressed look on her face as she walked right up to me.
“Please, will you help me?” she says.
When I asked her with what, she explained that there was some creepy older black guy who wouldn’t leave her alone.
“He just keeps bugging me, asking for my number. When I saw you, I told him you were my boyfriend. Is that okay?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Sure, that’s fine,” I answered, scooting over so she could sit next to me. A moment later, her admirer got on the bus. I watched his eyes scan the rows of seats for her, but when he saw me sitting next to her, I gave him a cold stare. I immediately saw the cowardice in his eyes as he broke eye contact and dropped into a seat at the front of the bus. Not once over the next 14 hours did he turn and look back at us.
When I arrived back in Detroit, my girlfriend was waiting excitedly at the bus station. God bless her soul, she had already gotten me an apartment and fully furnished it. I literally stepped off the bus and into a beautiful new apartment not far from the neighborhood we grew up in. But I was broke, so it was time to get back to hustling. The first thing I did was pay a visit to an older wiseguy from the neighborhood, a tough old dago named Joe Scroi. He always loved me so I don’t think he will mind me using his real name here. He was close friends with my Uncle Pete Tocco, and he owned several nightclubs in the area. I figured he could hook me up with a job bouncing at one of his clubs. I’ll never forget his response when I asked him for a job. I remember it clear as day.
“Gunner, giving you a job bouncing is like sending a fox to guard the chickens.”
It took me a moment to get the analogy. He knew I was a fighter and on more than several occasions I had busted up his clubs fighting with various jerkoffs. But, of course, he would always laugh and toss the other guys out, even if I was in the wrong.
“Nah, Joe, it ain’t like that,” I replied. “Strictly professional. I’d never do that.”
I wasn’t sure if he believed me, but he hired me to work security at his largest club, The Ritz on Gratiot Avenue. He even paid me $90 a night, exactly double what all the other bouncers were making, which I was sure he did out of respect for my uncle. Bouncing was a great job for a young guy like me. I mean, it was like getting paid to go out, to get into fights. And there were many. It was the perfect arena for a gladiator like me. Everybody treated me like a rock star, especially the girls. I never went home without at least 4-5 numbers in my pocket.
A few weeks later, a female friend of mine invited me to meet her boyfriend, who had just opened a new night club. The kid was only 21-years-old, and his place, “Generations,” was already doing surprisingly well. When he asked me to head up his security and told me that he would double what I was making at Joe’s place, I jumped ship. Joe didn’t even hold it against me. He said, “Hey, I don’t blame ya, kid. Business is business. Good luck.” But from the way he said it, I could tell something was up. It was in his tone, as if he had a little secret he wasn’t telling me. Over the next few months I’d learn what it was. Nevertheless, he wished me the best and I went to work for the kid, whose name was Jay Knoth. Since he and I are still friends, I doubt he will mind me using his real name either. I’m sure he will get a chuckle when he reads this, because I know he reads The Chronicles.
What Jay didn’t know, however, was how much I began skimming for the club. He was a good kid but naïve as hell. Or maybe he wasn’t and just didn’t care. Either way, the club became super popular. I mean, the most popular in the east side of Detroit. Max capacity in the place was supposed to be maybe 500. But by doing major radio promotions, we began packing over 1,500 people a night. We were charging $10 for girls and $20 for guys for cover. Like any club, two thirds of the patrons were guys. So, if you do the math, the money we were making just off cover charge was ridiculous. That’s where I made my skim. I worked the door a lot because I knew everyone and lots of freshly graduated high school kids, including many of my cousins and family friends, would ask for me. I’d skim probably a $100 or more an hour from the door money. I also had a friend of mine who was a bar tender hook some of my boys up with tabs, then at the end of the night we would split the payout. Some of those tabs were in the thousands, so I would leave every night with pockets stuffed with cash. Sometimes thousands. The thing was, Jay didn’t give a shit because he himself was packing his safe with tens of thousands. What did he care if I was wetting my beak a little? He knew who I was and what I was about, so he simply turned a blind eye. Never mentioned it once.
This was one of the happiest times of my life because I was really doing well and making A LOT of money. I had just bought my first home, and the relationship I had with my girlfriend was relatively stable, even if I was actually cheating on her regularly with girls from the club. But all good things come to an end. Within a few months the fire department started coming in and ticketing us for violating the club’s maximum capacity limits. The fines grew exponentially in size. They started at $500, but before we knew it they were fining us $5,000 a night. At the time it didn’t matter because we were making so much. But then undercover cops started busting us for having minors in the club. Then the cops began hanging around the club at closing time, pulling people over for drunk driving. Of course, the popularity of the club began attracting a less desirable demographic from the inner city, so there started to be a lot of fights. There were a couple of stabbings, a shooting, and kid who got ran over in the parking lot and died.
The media was onto us. Eventually, the city shut the place down. But I knew “the city” was in fact a collective of local wiseguys who owned nightclubs in the area. They didn’t like that we were stealing all of their business. I even remember Joe calling me from his club one night, asking how we were doing. He said, “Well, when it’s over, your job over here will be waiting.” I knew what that meant. He was about to shut Jay’s place down. Joe and his brother alone owned three of the biggest clubs on the east side, and we were digging deep into his pockets with Generations. I never said anything to Jay, of course, but I’d known it was coming for weeks. Joe and his paisans had pull over the local cops and city officials. And they used it to shut Jay down. Once Jay’s place closed, all of our patrons returned to their regular hangouts, Joe and his brother’s places. Game over. And so was my skim.
At this point I was beginning to get burned out on bouncing, because I couldn’t even talk to a girl without one of my girlfriend’s friends reporting it back to her. It became more of a headache than it was worth. Especially since I was already back to my old standby hustles of selling pot and steroids. They weren’t making me a ton of money, but they kept me afloat and made it so I didn’t have to work like a regular joe. I could hang out and do nothing most days. Maybe hit the gym at night. Thinking back, I guess I was a lazy SOB. But that was my way of life. I just drove around the city, doing my rounds, popping in at my grandparents’, my cousins’, my uncles’, my boys’, or just go hang around the market where all the young wiseguys hung out. Down there everyone knew me and I didn’t have to hide that side of my secret life. I could just be me. It was also nice because I didn’t have to pay for a thing. I was comped everywhere I went. It was a good life, but I needed something stable. Or at least a big score to carry me through. And sure enough, one soon came in the form of a fat coke-head chronic gambler whose father was a millionaire that owned a hotel, a nightclub, and a modern fitness center all in one building. But I’ll save that for next time. He was a great mark, and I made a TON of money off him!