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50 Greatest Stories

Ecstasy & Agony at the Starck Club

In the slammin’, trippin’, electrofunk, chem-crazed, wild-eyed world of the New Wave Society, Dino was the prince of the night.
By Richard West |

Editor’s note: this year is D Magazine’s 50th anniversary. To celebrate, we are republishing some of our favorite stories from the archives. This one, written by the great Richard West, from October 1989, looks at the biggest Ecstasy dealer that perhaps the world has ever known.

Dino, Dino, where’s Dino? There he is, next to the girl in the cargo-cult makeup, the nice-looking, tall, thin guy in the black dolman-sleeved shirt and torn-knee tourniquet blue jeans. Very conservative outfit for Dino, but come to think of it, that’s been his style lately. Very few beats-per-minute these days. What’s the deal? Only four hours of Starck Club life left on planet Earth, and Dino, one of our most slammin’, wildin’ night-trippers, is standing around stalled in his skin like some wild-eyed vegetative sucka from the suburbs on his first visit.


The revved, festive borealis of Starckdom’s sights and sounds swirled around Dino as he hugged friends and sipped his wine. Lights gyrated and rubberbanded all over the room in sync with the repetitive rhythms and NewWaveelectrofunk urps and hissings and pings and swooshings and beeps sounding like push-button phones, all backed up by the boom boom boom boom macho arrogant hard-on bass line. Then a black Betty Boop voice sounding raspy and cocky, loose and lewd, flicked iguana-tongued insinuations up the aural canals: “Hey, big boy, are you gonna make me feel the bass on this record?” Then it screamed, “Ohhh, work my body down to the floor!”

And below Dino, on Starckdom’s own sunken cherry-wood dance floor, Starck-sters pounded boom boom boom boom with their Doc Martens, Zodiacs, and Timberlands, in steel-toed engineer boots with a piece of leather cut out so the steel showed, or bitchin’-looking ankle-high fake cowboy boots. As the chemical molecules of 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine that make up the designer drug Ecstasy kicked in their jolt of HI-NRG, metabolisms heated up, and some of the dancers tied wet napkins around their necks. Hands hoisting glasses of Perrier to mouths moved so swiftly it appeared they were in a rowing contest, legs moved only slightly slower than Carl Lewis’ in the Tokyo hundred-meter finals, and sweat flew off the mob clutching the Dan Rizzie-painted columns like pondwater off puppies. Everybody’s Freakin’! Everybody’s Peakin”! Doin’ the Starck Club Stomp!

But Dino, known all over clubland as a very def dancer, wasn’t stomping; he wasn’t even X-ing. Oh, every now and again he’d slide out on the floor and expertly make hip movements that suggested a doomed, no-hands attempt to scratch his groin against an invisible tree. But halfheartedly, and soon he’d leave in his dangling way of walking, as if he were hung from a clothes hanger. No HI-NRG. No XTC.

Ahh, sad but true. Dino’s dream world romance with the late-night club scene became a dangerous masquerade that landed him in heartbreak hotel. You see, Starck-dom is like a coin tossed in the air; it presents two different sides of its nature, yet both are very similar. The good side of that hoary Utopian dream is that if you give people the license to be as outrageous as they want in any fashion they can dream up, they’ll be creative about it and maybe even do something good; maybe they’ll realize their own potentialities and finally start doing what they really should.

The ill side is that the clubs, clothes, drugs, music, sex, and most of all the comradeship fostered by this gesture of faith in mass and individual unrealized possibilities can envelop you like the solar wind. It becomes your whole life. Not only do you quit your job, school, old friends, and Mom, Dad, Sis, and Buddy, you quit yourself. The real you outside Starckdom is a geek in weenie jeans and a DeMolay sport coat with a Kids-For-Christ haircut. So you reinvent yourself to be hip enough to participate. Never forget: cool is fear turned to fashion.

Dino? That’s actually Rodney Glenn Kitchens, 23, from Waxahachie, “suffering the wound for the sake of the blessing,” as the preacher man says. And in about six hours from right now, “Dino” will be forgotten, and Rodney Kitchens will be sitting outside Judge Joe Kendall’s courtroom with his parents and attorney awaiting trial on charges of possession with intent to deliver 3,000 hits of XTC. That prospect will take the HI-NRG out of anyone.

The Starck Club and Rodney Kitchens met during the spring of 1985 and instantly fit together like lost pieces of a puzzle. Fortunately for him, Starck by that time was no longer a pampered playpen for the owner’s wealthy friends. Now it was Nell’s-Paradise-Garage-Pyramid-on-the-Trinity celebrating New York attitude! A chic clubhouse; sensational new music played loud enough to make your eyeballs thyroid; that old crypt Studio 54’s idea of exclusivity so that acceptance and fashion were used to mock contemporaries, as if contempt elevated the Chosen One to a swan among geese; narcissistic flair and flamboyant trappings; all for the simple desire to get into a club; and, aren’t we lucky, an eternal supply of Ecstasy, the perfect party drug, and legal!

Flash that New York attitude! Show up in something that resembles an intense alliance between Claude Montana and a junkyard; act like you’re doing the noxious sludge at the door a favor by just being there and presto! Ankle right past the mobile vulgus crocodiled down the street behind the velvet rope, don’t even think of paying the $10 cover, and you’re in Starckdom. Thanks to his friend, Lynnie, a Starck regular, Rodney Kitchens did just that on his first visit and joined the post-punk, liberated, anarchic terror of middle-American insomniacs inside.

Rodney lost track of Lynnie and discovered the unisex restrooms, the semi-private seating areas divided by the translucent curtains, the dance floor enclosed by two walls of metal grating bathed in colored lights. He met Vaal, the androgynous cigarette girl, and the breathtaking J’Mel, but who was that young guy walking around with a bag taped to his chin, and why?

Somebody was orchestrating the coolest music he’d ever heard: Yaz, Yello, Depeche Mode’s “Master & Servant,” all these vicious beats, all this electro-distort stuff, wild sounds you wouldn’t hear on the radio until the next century. And look at the haircuts from hell! Reddisimo mohawks, Grace Jones square cuts, funky dreds, triple technicolor skiffles, lightning stripes and rainbows shaved into hair like brands, and some guy with a gravity-defying, towering cockscomb floating above his skull, thanks to a whole can of Final Net hair spray. Hey Sony, meet Rodney!

All these incredibly hip people who must be artists, dressed in their pre-Columbian, last of the Mohicans, first of the Martians mega-weirdness. Cross-dressing glam-rockers, death-rockers with their Ivory Foundation powdered faces, red lips, and the twin miracles of mascara, the eyes looking like the corpses of two small crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff, bustiers and other under outerwear, spandex, bike shorts, spikes, chains, black leather, and every other kind of come-on-little-honey-swallow-this-and-you’ll-see-things-differently outfit and get-up. But not a plain red leather junior miss school shoe from Thom McAn in the whole freaking place!

And the ribbon that wrapped up this incredible Christmas gift for Rodney Kitchens and hundreds of other wannabes was that Starckdom represented every hellish Jack Kerouac-Lenny Bruce-James Dean-Little Richard-Iggy Pop-Johnny Rotten-Megadeth aspect of American life that Mom and Dad despised. What The Folks, with their constipated cerebral cortexes, tried to conceal, Starckdom flaunted; what they tried to ignore, refine away, otherwise purge from human experience, Starckdom explored openly, delightedly, tauntingly: noise, sex, speed, drugs, flamboyance. My gawd, where would they draw the line—cannibalism?

Drugs come in two dosages: too much and not enough. The latter wasn’t the problem at the Starck Club in the summer of 1985. You want to score some X at Starck? Find Lee, the guy walking around with a bag taped to his chin full of XTC. So that’s who that is. Give him $15, and here you go, babe, a 125-milligram yellow tablet of “Vitamin E.” Within an hour you’ll feel warm nerve sparklers sputtering in your brain, maybe a little queasiness creeping up your throat, but ignore it, it’ll disappear. You’ll heat up like a plugged-in hot plate, your organs will beat like a Sousa drum corps, then suddenly, peace…connectedness…goodbye defenses, so long inhibitions. Join the universal heartbeat of humanity, Rodney, as the Me Generation gets in touch with its us-ness.

So true, Lee! Ecstasy made him feel wise and special, as if dropped from an advanced, more tolerant universe. All these impossibly hip cosmic groovers suddenly liked him, and he fell in love with them like nuns love God. You didn’t lose it like with LSD. You danced, hugged everyone, and rapped as if you had swallowed truth serum. You stayed in control and went with the warm, fraternal flow spilling over the room like sugared tea. Danger? Rodney felt the only danger would be loving the rest of the human race so much you’d end up in bed with a human turnip.

Shazam! Standing at 4 a.m. with the whole noisy Starck assembly bursting outward, grooving on the fizz of his overloaded circuits, Rodney Kitchens felt his priorities shift like tectonic plates after a seismic storm. His brain had exploded and was going to help propel him straight outta that age-old scene, which finds the young, lonely, misfit oddball languishing in his bedroom, trying to escape the lumpen emptiness and day drudgery of his beleaguered past life.

In August 1983, the month that report was filed, the Kitchens family had just moved to the Dallas area. Since, Rodney had worked at odd jobs and been rejected by the Army. But here at the Starck Club and later at Club Sparx, Mistral, Empire, Club Clearview, Anaconda’s, and others, he felt he had finally come home. They offered a destiny and identity that had laid chrysalis-like in his heart, waiting for a sudden blast of heat and light and change of scale to set him free.

Dino rarely missed a night at the Starck Club, and before too long, he and Lee became good friends. Like his father, Dino was a good salesman. Talk a pump into believing it was a windmill if he put his mind to it. Soon Lee was selling Ecstasy for his new friend. Before, Lee would pay $15 per pill and sell it for $20 for a five-buck profit. Dino dropped the price to $10, sold for $15, and gave Lee a freebie for every five sold. Dino was paying $4 each for the sealed cellophane bags of Ecstasy pills locked up in the trunk of his car. The cost to the manufacturer was a dollar a pill.

Overnight, Dino Rodney went from being so broke the bank wouldn’t let him draw breath to having a closet full of stylish French Girbaud pants with deep pockets—a must—so he could carry all the cash to his car several times during an evening. He hired a kid to work the fertile fields of SMU and a guy to serve Oak Lawn to make sure the neuropharmacologically interested gay crowd remained ecstatic, even though clubs like Tex’s Ranch and Throckmorton Mining Company were already doing a land office business in XTC themselves. It looked as if his old dream of being rich beyond want so he could laugh at this vale others found so tearful was coming true after all.

But money proved to be like the tides; it flowed out as fast as it flowed in. Dino threw money around like he had three arms: on drugs, friends, jewelry, restaurant and bar tabs. Much of it went for clothes, so necessary for your successful night-tripper, for without something totally sui generis you were nothing, an ignoble weasel without meaning.

It was there [Starck] that I was introduced to a new drug called Ecstasy. It was legal. I tried one and within an hour I was in love with everybody and everything. I had found my new home. Everyone seemed to like me, and for the first time, I liked myself.

Rodney Kitchens

So: baggy white Girbauds, but tight at the hips and snapped around the ankles, spiked bell, gauntlets, Perry Ellis baggy white shirt with T-shirt underneath strategically ripped to expose the pierced nipple, cuff boots with tiny spurs; hair, short and black on the sides, blond on top with a black braid down the back, and “Spike,” his foot-long bang hanging down in front past his chin with a cross clamped at the end; and accessories, diamond stud earrings, a mess of antique rhinestone bracelets, rings, gold chains, and other gewgaws that made Rodney clank like two freight cars coming together when he did the Starck Club Stomp.

Meanwhile, the law had taken notice of all this sudden HI-NRG and proceeded to do their own stomp, and then spit fire. Citing evidence of widespread Ecstasy abuse, the Drug Enforcement Administration placed the drug on Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act as of July 1, 1985. The feds reserve Schedule I for drugs with a high potential of abuse and no known medical use in the United States: heroin, LSD, marijuana (but not cocaine, a Schedule II drug). Maximum penalty for possession or sale (first offense): 15 years and $125,000 fine.

Eight days later Dallas DEA agents made the first Ecstasy arrests in the nation under the new ban when they busted two men with 740 tablets at a gas station pay phone near Preston Road and the LBJ Freeway. The charges were later dismissed because a spelling error in the 29-letter chemical name of Ecstasy prevented the mandate from going into effect until August 11, a small portent of prosecution difficulties that lay ahead in cases involving Ecstasy.

Well, now. Getting ecstatically high in Dallas was still very possible, but things were no longer completely C.A.V.U.—Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited. Dino, however, continued to thrive. Some Ecstasy sources dried up, but Eve, a slightly chemically amended version of Ecstasy remained legal and available. The government’s ban backfired, of course, by stimulating the growth of huge black markets in methamphetamines (crank, meth, speed, crystal), a real aggressive, take-charge, paranoia-inducing drug much more dangerous than Ecstasy. Crank-fueled, you could do the Starck Stomp for 48 hours without sleep. Thirty years ago, Sis and Buddy had to be home by 11; 20 years ago, by 1; now they left the house on Friday night, took crystal on board like one of those pipes that sucks grain from a ship’s hold, and returned just after 60 Minutes to finally get some rest. Dino cut himself in on some of that action, you bet.

So after sleeping all day, he and Spike would leave after midnight for their regular round of night-tripping: Modern Music Nights at Monopoly’s on Mondays, Mistral on Tuesdays, Baby’s or Anaconda’s on Wednesdays, and Starckdom the rest of the week.

Inevitably, of course, the Master of Maya blew it. The bead curtain of illusion that was Dino parted, and Rodney, that old exile on Main Street, walked through. Always needing money, he stole $11,000 worth of his friend Lynnie’s jewelry. He denied the theft for a few weeks, but after learning that a warrant for his arrest had been issued, he surrendered, pleaded guilty, and was placed on probation for six years. With the help of his family, he entered CareUnit, a private hospital in Fort Worth.

Rodney Kitchens left CareUnit after a month. He attended their meetings for a while but, flat broke, soon returned to Dino and the club scene. In no time, he and Spike were back among the writhing rib cages at Trax’s “Wild Wednesdays”—stopping the show when War’s “Lowrider” came on by sitting on the dance floor with a bandana around his head, a fat, joint-looking cigarette between his lips, and holding a barstool for a steering wheel while somebody dangled cherries in front of him.

Still, Dino stayed off drugs for six months. One night he broke down and smoked a joint, and it scared him. He realized he needed help and told his parole officer, hoping the P.O. knew about some drug abuse programs in Dallas. Rodney still remembers that slow, premeditated smile used by cops all over the world, dry and mirthless as sand, meant to lull, confuse, disarm.

The P.O. promptly told the police, who promptly issued an arrest warrant for parole violation. Again he voluntarily surrendered and pleaded guilty, believing the court-appointed attorney who told him he would serve his three-year stretch locally, in Lew Sterrett, because Huntsville was too crowded. True enough for two months, but they found room for Rodney in the Big House from June 25 to October 13, 1986.

A lot of people wondered, Dino, Dino, where’s Dino? when a platoon of 42 commando cops and two dope-detecting dogs boogied into Starckdom at 12:41 a.m. on August 8, 1986, turned up the lights, shut off “Rock Me Amadeus,” and methodically searched everybody—single files, chumps, customers over here, employees over there, and have your I.D.s ready-before boogieing out about 4 o’clock after arresting 36 Starckoids.

Generally, after the law comes down on you like a hawk on a field mouse, you don’t have much appetite for mischief. Certainly that was true enough of Rodney Kitchens. For two years he tried to improve his “no stable work history” record, but his W-2 income tax earnings forms show that perseverance wasn’t exactly his strong point.

It wasn’t so much an aversion to day-drudgery or a love of do-nothingness. Rodney had no skill, no proudful trade to boost his self-esteem. And how many times had he been turned away when the boss learned he was an ex-con? Damn few were willing to give him a second chance.

He helped his father do field investigations for mortgage companies for Lone Star Field Services ($163.50); painted road stripes for Tex-Stripe ($126); and worked for Watkins Brothers Construction Company in Duncanville ($620). He began an 18-month course at Careers in Cosmetology in Grand Prairie and discovered to his surprise that he had real talent for culling and styling hair. But he couldn’t stick with it; he quit and re-enrolled several times before walking out for good five weeks before graduation.

I was so into Dino that I didn’t exist … so much deception that I didn’t even know Rodney anymore … so much deception that I didn’t know what the truth was. I was a product of The Underground Society.

Rodney Kitchens

Why? He was tired of not having two pennies to rub together, and he knew where he could fill those baggy pants pockets overnight. There was a whole new club scene of Billy Idolizing, four-wheel pavement-punk skateboarding alumni forming their own status sphere at the hot Club Sparx on Lemmon Avenue. Oddballs all…Town East Mall misfits…attuned…Ecstasy!

Soon Dino knew Teresa and Robin, Chad and Lynn and Ed the disc jockey who threw the cool after-parties: music booming; TV on without sound; somebody spraying and sniffing the inhalant Medusa off a shirtsleeve, then giggling like a hyena; strangers crashed on the beds; eyeballs suspended in nets of red wire; straggling out during the Today show.

Sparx and the after-parties, that’s where Dino became good friends with Steven Borg. They moved in together and decided to pool their resources to deal Ecstasy and speed—and this time, no nickel and diming. Time to go for the Big Score. No matter the busts, no matter that five of six reported U.S. deaths associated with Ecstasy and Eve between July 1985 and March 1986 occurred in Dallas, no matter the latest cranky medical rants about XTC blowing away brain cells.

Dino and Steven began buying 300 X tabs at a time for $6 and selling them for $15. The money rolled in, and they set a price list for bigger deals: 50 hits, $9.50; 25 hits, $10; 20 hits, $11; 15 hits, $11.50, and so on. Dino also was clipping coupons from the back pages of High Times magazine and ordering 100 tablets of ephedrine, a legal stimulant found in about a third of over-the-counter cold remedies and a hundred tablets of caffeine: combining the two (total price $13.50) and selling them as “Black Mollies” for $2 each, three for $5. The effect was about the same as No Doz.

One day the deal they had been waiting for showed up. A guy from Florida named Bruce wanted to buy 30,000 hits. Whoa, Bruce! That large an amount usually is the come-on of a narc anxious for his own Big Score. But Bruce seemed cool, and they worked him down to 15,000, then 10,000, and finally agreed to sell him 3,000 hits.

Arrest Report: Rodney Glenn Kitchens, born December 8, 1965. 6’3″, 145 lbs., blue eyes, blond hair.

Date of offense: April 21, 1988.

At noon on April 21, 1988, investigating officer Bruce McDonald contacted suspect Kitchens concerning a purchase of 3,000 XTC tabs for $20,250 (at $6.75 each). McDonald had previously, on April 18, 1988, met with suspect Kitchens and accomplice Steven Borg, at which time suspect Kitchens gave McDonald two samples of XTC.

McDonald met with Kitchens and Steven Borg at Denny’s (6061 LBJ). McDonald, Kitchens, and Borg went to the car Kitchens was driving, and Kitchens got in driver’s seat; Borg got in front passenger’s seat, McDonald into back seat. Kitchens said the ’product’ was in a black bag in which McDonald found 1,000 white tablets in clear plastic bag. McDonald handed Kitchens $3,000 and said he had to get the remaining $3,750 out of his car, which was parked next to Kitchens’ car. Kitchens had said he only had 1,000 XTC then, but an additional 2,000 was coming in the afternoon. When McDonald got out, officers moved in and arrested both. Narcotics analyzed at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences and found to be n-Hydroxy-3 4 Methylene-Dioxyamphetamine, which falls under Texas VCSA (Analogue law). Penalty Group 1, Felony 3rd degree. Bail set at $20,000.

Rodney Kitchens’ trial, scheduled to begin five hours after the closing of the Starck Club on July 12, was postponed for a week. On July 19, while potential jurors waited, the organized crime division of the district attorney’s office offered a deal to Kitchens’ attorney, Robert Lively. An assistant DA had hinted about working something out a few weeks before, but Lively was still surprised because Rodney Kitchens had visited the Big House before.

Lively knew the state’s case wasn’t what you would call airtight. The chemists at the institute had made a mistake in their initial analysis of the tablets seized by Officer McDonald. They were not n-Hydroxy-3, 4 Methylene-Dioxyamphetamine. After a second analysis. Rodney Kitchens was reindicted on June 24, 1988, for possession with intent to deliver N. Isopropenyloxy-3, 4 Methylenedioxyamphetamine, a tablet chemically similar to Ecstasy and Eve but also similar to the legal ephedrine. Analyzing designer drugs wasn’t easy. Wasn’t there a good chance that the second analysis also might be flawed?

Both sides realized the difficulties involved in winning the case: laboratory mistakes made; dueling chemists testifying in their whole-truth, nothing-but-the-truth jargon that the substance was the drug of the devil; no, it’s a molecule away from Sudafed; an ex-con as a defendant but a clean-cut, cooperative, repentant young man who had had some useful chats with the DEA—no names, no places, just ideas. A small fry in the criminal world in any case.

Both sides shook hands, and just before noon a weeping Rodney Kitchens stood before the judge and got the break of his life. Instead of a possible conviction and a minimum 15-year prison term because of his priors, he pleaded guilty and received a 10-year probated sentence and a $5,000 fine.

Only Rodney Kitchens knows if Dino is indeed dead. Rodney has been back to a few of the clubs, but it’s been more like a transitory act of self-indulgence, like staying home sick from school when you really aren’t. So far he hasn’t missed his semimonthly probation meetings on the first and third Wednesdays. So far he has passed legal urine. And he has enrolled at Aladdin Beauty College in Duncanville to once again work toward obtaining his cosmetology license.

“Oh, I’m going to finish all right,” Rodney Kitchens said not long after his court appearance. “It was the happiest day in my mother’s life when I started at Careers in Cosmetology. I really let her down by quitting. She and dad have stuck by me through all this, and I’m going to pay them back by getting my license.

“I hope my story shows how I or anyone can let the scene consume their life and how easily you can become a product of your environment. I hope that my life will be an example of this and possibly help someone not to fall into the traps that I did.”

The last entry in “The Underground Society,” the diary of Rodney Kitchens:

How many times can one man be a fool? He that stands before me is not whom I sought. Through thine eyes this is a beast created by fear. Not of this heart deep inside.


Richard West

Richard West

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