This isn’t a diss on AJ Mclean, he was a friendly and generous guy when I met him and I respect him for knowing when to and having the courage to get help, to stay sober and become an advocate for recovery.
The year was 1999 and I was at the top of my career, I had two TV shows in syndication and I was running one magazine and on staff at a few others. I was flush, I was turning down job offers, money, travel and sex. Time travel to today, I should have accepted them all.
It was the night of the music awards in Toronto and we had a fistfull of tickets. The Canadian awards are predictably boring but they had hired the Backstreet Boys to spice things up. At the after show party I was seated at the same table as “The Boys” and a few drinks later I decided to engage them. Fresh off hosting a Wakeboard TV show in Florida and I figured I could talk their language. I was right.
The baggy pants and loud shirts, frosted tips and bad tribal tattoos would have brought Guy Fieri to a frenzy.
The Backstreet Boys were huge Wakeboard fans and I regaled them with party stories from the Orlando, Tampa and Miami shoots – at the time we had pretty similar interests. They suggested I be their guide to Toronto’s nightlife, more accurately I told them my friend owned a strip club. After a few more drinks we exited the restaurant through the kitchen and out into the alley where their limo was waiting. As the oversized white Lincoln Continental wound through the downtown I had a rare moment of clarity (I used to drink a lot back then). I looked up and saw AJ, Brian and Howie flanked by random shooter girls, music industry groupies and fame seekers, with my bald 50 year old scenester friend Ken somehow wedged in the middle of it all.
What followed was probably just a below average Tuesday night in the life of this well known boy band but for the rest of this rag-tag entourage, it was a taste of the rock and roll dream. We were quickly ushered through the VIP entrance, the club had cleared the back room of riff-raff and we were sent buckets of iced Coronas and shots of the good Tequila but we still paid for the dances – somethings in life aren’t negotiable, death, taxes and apparently $20 lap dances. Somehow I became the hero of the evening for knowing the club manager and getting him to pander to these guys. I didn’t have the heart to tell them it was because I used to work behind the bar, cleaning the brass pole on my first shift and shuttling bottles of Veuve to Mike Tyson, Liam Neeson, Ray Liota, Metallica and Johnny Knoxville to name a few (stay tuned and maybe some of those stories might work their way into this blog).
The party faded into the night and as we were leaving I got an invitation to come back to the hotel. I wasn’t sure but there were still enough females in our party to not make this weird. We entered the lobby of The Four Seasons looking like wasted 90’s Spring Breakers from Cabo. The baggy pants and loud shirts, frosted tips and bad tribal tattoos would have brought Guy Fieri to a frenzy. We sucked grandly and unapologetically owned it.
Upstairs in the Penthouse Suite the fun continued, beer, vodka, whiskey and wine – if there were drugs I didn’t see them or I was deemed a serious threat to their supply. At this point I was not a good judge of anything but through this alcoholic fuzz I realized I was the last man standing. I put this down to my Irish heritage and my ability to remain upright on an ever tilting world. I stood there on the balcony with AJ smoking Cuban cigars (legal in Canada) and we philosophized about life as only two drunk 20-something-year-olds can at 4 am.
I grabbed my jacket and thanked the dude for a fun night, we did an awkward handshake/’bro’ hug and I was sure we would never meet again. As I quietly closed the door another one opened directly across the hall, it was their stalking cougar of a PR lady and judging by the look on her face I knew the evening wasn’t over yet. This wasn’t the first time I was taken advantage of by a woman in her 40s but hey there is no #metoo movement for men and I don’t plan to start one. I did however request she turn off the video camera and tuck it under the bed, I may one day run for public office. It was now 8am and I was disheveled, bleary eyed and smelling of the not very attractive aromatic blend of whiskey, cigars, pussy and ass.
I calculated how to inflict the least damage to my self-esteem while doing a 5 Star Walk of Shame across the Four Seasons lobby. I looked at myself in the mirrored doors of the elevator, ran my fingers through what was left of my hair gel and got in step with the musak version of Sugar Ray’s “Fly”. I strode out of that elevator in my Vans like I owned the world, but due to a blazing hangover my space/time equilibrium was way off and the revolving glass doors seemed an eternity away. I squinted and sweated and tried to steady myself and look “cool”. I almost made it but as I passed a couple of jogging Moms and a conventioneer in Dockers, a dark shadow entered my field of vision. I started to tuck in my shirt and struggled to button my collar as an icy hand landed squarely on my shoulder. How in my most compromised state had I forgotten the most ironic part of this bacchanal? I turned to see my ultra conservative third roommate (and our condo owner) Mark in his penguin suit, loafers and perennial scowl – he was starting his work day as Assistant to The Concierge.
What followed was a terse exchange with him trying to give me unsolicited life advice and ultimately threatening me about “setting foot in his workplace ever again.” To which I responded with my best impression of Jeff Spicoli, spun 360 degrees and raised my middle finger in defiance. Mark decided I wasn’t an appropriate roommate soon after and replaced me with a female foreign exchange student from Japan – he ended up marrying her a few years later.
I had a great 20 year run after that night and found myself frequently in the elevators of Four Seasons hotels all over the world, planning a shrewd escape. I would imagine the trajectory of my life for the next few years and Mr. McLean’s was roughly the same except my budget was much tighter and my fame more fleeting.
I’m glad he straightened up, found God, got married and had kids, we are roughly the same age and I’m sure those years left a few indelible marks but also some good memories. Maybe these days we could grab an iced coffee and complain about old age or the stresses of family life. I still drink modestly but I don’t find myself in the back of limos with boy bands and strippers anymore. That was just a phase.