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I met Madame Claude in her Los Angeles exile in 1981. Despite the comforts and status of her A-table at the lodestar Hollywood commissary Ma Maison, despite the homesickness-curing cuisine of Wolfgang Puck, and despite having her hand kissed by the likes of Swifty Lazar and Johnny Carson, France’s—and, surely, the world’s—most exclusive madam was as depressed and displaced as Napoleon on St. Helena.

Gabriel and his friends like to go dancing at places in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen like Viva and Pacha. One night last winter, they ended up at a downtown club hosting a circuit party, a huge gay rave with throbbing, industrial house music.

The house meeting begins promptly at 7 p.m. Mickey paces the living room with a clipboard in one hand, a cigarette in the other. His three newest housemates—Stephen, Hop, and Larry—sit before him. “When you all came to this house, you begged me to move you in,” he says. “Right or wrong?”

The fat guy smoking Pall Malls, he says he almost married one of those girls. Honest. He met her in a bar one of the last times he was in the Philippines and fell in love, almost bought her a ring and took her home. It didn’t work out, though, and he doesn’t say why because it doesn’t really matter. He shrugs.

He called me a stupid bitch … a worthless piece of shit.… I had to tell people I fell off stage because I had so many bruises on my ribs face and legs.… I have a permanent twitch in my eye from him hitting me in my face so much.

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