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The Wankus Chronicles, Pt. 2

Porn Valley- When last we left, young Wankus, he had yet to make his trip out West to find fame and fortune in the dry cleaning business only to inhale poisonous carbons and thus account for the future programming and host choices on KSEX.

Before all of that, Wankus, who was trying to make a mark in New York as a musician, wound up with the Tommy Connors band. CBS was mulling giving the group a contract. “We were basically signed,” Wankus says. “We shot a video. They rented out a hall- a whole venue, got extras. It was a whole big deal. We shot a whole MTV video. Then the producer wanted to sleep with the lead singer of the band- a guy. Basically the guy kept blowing him off because he was straight and he had a hot-looking girlfriend. Out of nowhere he takes him into his office, somewhere, and says I want you to suck my dick, whatever. Otherwise it will affect your career. All of a sudden, that deal went away. Somehow this great deal we had was gone, a typical story of entertainment. It happens with everybody.”

After graduating high school, Wankus moved to New York City and was basically on his own singing in niteclubs and doing voiceovers for cartoons. “It was a bunch of little scattered shit acting-wise,” he says. “But music was the thing. It got to the point where I had a once a week night at a lounge type of thing.” Singing his own compositions, Wankus realized he was developing a pretty good following. “They would come every week which was really good because usually with a gig like that, you’ve got to play all the old standards. I figured this was it, and I was going to make it as a musician somehow and that’s going to be that. Then I fell in love. That fucks it all up.”

Because you had to be 18 to audition without your parents, and he wasn’t, Wankus used to fake it by telling producers his parents were outside double-parked, waiting for him. “I used to do all that shit on my own and my mom was cool about it. She knew what I was doing and I kept her in the loop. I was no dummy. I was a pretty smart kid. So it was no big deal and I got a lot of shit.” Wankus wouldn’t describe himself as a phenomenal singer, by any stretch, but feels he has a decent voice. ” A good entertainers’ voice,” he cautions. “But you won’t see me winning American Idol. But it was something that could keep a crowd going, whatever.”

Wankus remembers the time the musical Oliver was being brought back for a road tour. “I was like 14 or 15- something like that,” he says. “I was too old for Oliver and too young for other parts. I was in a bad spot but my manager said, fuck it. Just go for it. You never know. I went and sang halfway through a song. I was in a big theater- it was on 42nd street but I can’t remember the name. The director’s in the fucking audience with a bunch of assistants. They’re hurrying you up and don’t give a fuck if if your music’s not right. I think, half way through the song, the guy just berated me- why the fuck are you wasting my time? You’re the wrong age, you suck, just get the fuck out of here.”

According to Wankus, the incident totally destroyed him. He remembers getting on the train and going back to Jersey, tears in his eyes. “Like a little bitch,” he says. “I appreciated the honesty. At least you’re not waiting for a phone call but it just killed me. But you’ve got to go on these auditions and give it a try.”

Marriage was another thing Wankus gave a try. He met a “hot little Puerto Rican-Italian girl” named Theresa. While they lived together in New York, Wankus went to work selling contemporary furniture- $20,000 sofas and $50,000 bedroom sets. “I got that job selling the owner of that company his own pen,” Wankus laughs. “I walked in there at age 18 and said I wanted a job in sales. Ever do sales work? No. Why the fuck should I hire you? These are stories your father would tell you, so I grabbed the pen out of his pocket and sold it to him. It was a real lavish showroom and major directors, producers shot there. Rappers, all that shit. So working in furniture is where I met Theresa.”

In a short time, they fell in love. By 21 Wankus was married. Asked what the attraction was, Wankus said he and Theresa shared almost identical personalities. “And she was knock-dead gorgeous.”

But Wankus never liked the fact the women would refer to him as being cute. “That would drive me crazy,” he says. “I used to hate that. Girls would be like you’re cute. Oh, look. That guy’s gorgeous. But to me I was cute. I wanted to be gorgeous. But as I got older I said I don’t give a shit. Fuck it. That guy’s hot but that’s all he has to offer. I’m cute but I’m fun and I’m talented. I made it through life that way. I scored hot chicks having more to offer than just looks. But this girl Theresa was so smokin’ hot I didn’t want to lose her.”

Wankus later learned that having identical personalities can be a curse as well as a blessing. It became a competition, he realized. “In the beginning it just seemed so perfect,” he says. “We complimented each other. We walked into the room at a party- the whole room lit up. They expected us to put on a show. Later that became a problem.” Realizing he was in love, married and broke, Wankus moved out to California to join his father in the family business and wound up becoming a member of the Neighborhood Cleaners Association. He pauses to chuckle thinking about that.

After his own divorce, Wankus’ father had moved to Santa Barbara where he owned a chain of dry cleaning establishments.

“He offered me the business,” said Wankus. “I didn’t know anything about dry cleaning. I was a performer. I didn’t want to fuckin’ dry clean. But I’m married now and I’ve got to do the right thing. I’ve got to take care of my family and here’s an opportunity to have a free business. Basically he wanted me to go to school, first. There’s actually a dry cleaning college. And then he wanted me to come out, he’d show me the ropes and it would be mine. It was a multi-million dollar business. It sounded good to me. I went to school.”

Wankus soon realized the business was complicated and not the joke he thought it would be. “It’s all chemistry,” he says. “Dry cleaners know what they’re doing. It’s a major craft.” Even to this day Wankus will grab garments without realizing it and offer suggestions for treatment. Old habits die hard, he realized.

“But what a shock that is moving from New York City to Santa Barbara,” Wankus says. “Everybody I met, I wanted to fuckin’ kick in the ass or punch in the face. I was coming from hyper-hyper-hyper and look over your shoulder, look over your shoulder because you have to, growing up in New York to peace, love and four-way stop signs.”

story in progress


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