According to this source, Hammerstein often would invite employees to his apartment next door. “When an act comes in, we may give them a trial run. We’d encourage them to stick around after their performance and mingle. A lot of the times, they’d end up at the bar, getting into conversations with Richard and Simon, discussing their act and maybe how they can improve it. That can turn into them staying out late and then maybe going to Simon’s loft.”
Rose Wood says she’d never seen any kind of sexual harassment at The Box. “I’ve worked in some clubs where I’ve been given three prostate exams before even taking off my coat. Simon is just a vanilla boy.” But other employees told me that sexual harassment is a frequent occurrence at The Box. “I was sexually harassed every day,” says a former performer. According to an employee (but denied by Hammerstein), he would often tease: “Do you want to fuck me? Do you want to suck my dick?” The former performer referred to Hammerstein’s behavior as “a sick power thing. It was like he was just joking—or that he wanted you to think he was just joking.”
That seems to explain, at least in part, the difference between The Box Hammerstein believes he has created and the one where some employees claim to have found themselves working. “In the beginning, it was a tight little group,” says the former employee. “But when people started quitting and we had to bring in new people, that’s when things got complicated. We had all evolved as a group. But when you bring in somebody new, you had to start dealing with figuring out what the person was willing to do, how far they were willing to go, what they would do versus what they wouldn’t do, what their tolerance was. Those new people hadn’t evolved with the rest of us.”
There isn’t much distance between raunchy in a good way (the kind that would entice a guy like Moby to invest in a project like The Box) and raunchy in a bad way (the kind that would prompt him to say, by way of explanation for why he doesn’t attend much anymore, “I’ve been to a lot of degenerate places, and rarely have I seen the level of degeneracy like I’ve seen at The Box”). But there is a difference; you know it when you see it. “The vision seems to have been lost,” says one employee. For this person it was simply when the staff stopped saying thank-you. At last month’s community-board meeting, one neighbor said he saw an ambulance carry a woman out of the club at 4:30 a.m. “Things have just gotten out of hand,” the employee says, and while that was always the point, it somehow has started to feel a little less fun.
“It’s gonna get mighty real in here,” bellows Raven O. We’re deep into the second act on a night when the Dow has dropped over 400 points. His red leather pants are skintight and his hair, bleached blond, is sculpted into devil’s horns. The sultry rhythms of Muddy Waters’s classic “Mannish Boy” fall over the crowd like a Mississippi heat wave: “When I was a young boy at the age of 5 / My mother said I was going to be the greatest thing alive!” The curtain parts and Miss Rose Wood enters the stage with a menacing gait—all shoulders and biceps—and a green bottle of Jameson’s in her hand. “I’m a full-grown man … I’m a man … I’m a natural-born lover’s man … ”
Rose is wearing a shredded black Hooters tank top, a short denim skirt with raccoon tails hanging from the waist, a massive brown wig, and shiny pink lace-up boots with four-and-a-half-inch heels. She looks like a truck-stop hooker, a lot lizard. She walks up to the edge of the stage, hips cocked like a fist, takes a big haul off that Jameson’s, and spits it all over the wispy boys and miniskirted models sitting below the stage. “I’m a maaaaan … ”
No artist at The Box embodies its spirit better than Rose, who has plied her trade in some of the grimiest gay and tranny bars this city has ever known. Case in point: This past spring, she came down with a cold, was congested, and decided before curtain time that this truck-stop-whore character is the kind of girl that would blow a snot rocket onstage. So that’s what she did—pinched finger to nostril and blew a ribbon of snot, which wharp-wharped its way into the cocktail of a patron seated in the front row. The young woman took up that glass and swallowed down a long, slow gulp and then handed it over to her boyfriend for a swig.
Tonight, she pulls off her tank top, revealing two massive breasts. Then she turns around, bends over, shoves a red thong to the side, and shows you her dark star. (At this point, it’s hard not to notice that she is completely shaved.) The skirt comes off next. She places the Jameson’s bottle center stage and lowers herself down over it, knees spread wide—legs like an Olympic power lifter, male parts dangling (“I’m a maaaaan”)—and lowers herself onto the neck of the bottle until it is inside her. She stands and shakes her ass. Then she pulls the bottle out, puts it to her lips, takes a long drink, and sprays it over the crowd.