Living Out Loud: : A Day With Huggy

Fargas and the red dress

Apr 14, 2004 at 2:06 pm

Some might see the remaking of Starsky and Hutch into a movie as yet another sign of the end of the world, or at least of intelligent life. After all, the idea of trying to make a camp version of the popular 1970s television series is like trying to make a bland plate of grits.

Rather than adding this to the shopping cart of assaults on anything broadly defined as taste or allowing it to pose any other highly relevant cultural questions, I prefer to let the occasion take me back to another time, a more innocent time — the mid '90s.

Back then, I was producing and hosting a weekly talk radio show featuring interviews with people ranging from Don Rickles to Noam Chomsky. I liked to mix it up a bit. After one particularly grueling month in which I'd struggled through several intellectual heavy-hitters, I was looking for someone a bit more fun.

As a fan of blaxploitation and campy pop culture, I had always had the idea that Antonio Fargas would be the perfect guest. Fargas had played Starsky and Hutch's own lovable pimp/informant Huggy Bear, as well as an assortment of characters in films of the Cleopatra Jones mold. When he turned up in a bit part in a new film, I immediately struck, knowing this was the time to get him.

After an affable and goofy enough 45-minute phone interview with Fargas, I called him back to offer thanks and a copy of the interview.

"Sure," he said, "I'll take a tape. And can you also send a picture of you with it?"

I admit this threw me for a loop. No other guest had made this particular request, and I wasn't prepared to honor it, though I did throw in my card when mailing out the tape, as was the usual procedure.

Weeks passed and other guests came and went. Fargas slipped entirely from my mind. Then one night at 3 a.m., the phone rang. At the time, futon-on-floor living in a tiny hole of an apartment meant the answering machine woke me even when it was muted. Thinking it was an emergency, I turned up the sound to listen and was surprised to hear Fargas' voice.

He rambled on for some time about doing a play in New York — where I live — and could we get together for lunch or something. I figured he was calling from his home in California, so I put the sound off and went back to sleep.

Only the next day, when I was listening to the message, did I realize he had indeed called from New York, thinking, I suppose, I was the kind of hard-partying city girl who would be wide awake at 3 on a Monday night.

Curiosity and perhaps the suspicion that a good story might follow led me to call him back that afternoon. We chatted a bit and agreed to meet for lunch the next day.

I went to pick him up at the rented apartment he was staying in for the duration of the play's run. After some quick small talk, we headed out to search for a restaurant.

Everywhere we went he was turning heads. "Hey, Huggy Bear!" "Look, it's Starsky and Hutch!" There was no denying it — he was TV's most recognizable mack.

"Hey, how's it goin'?" he shot back at most of them. Then, under his breath in an angrily resigned voice, he said, "I hate that shit."

As a guy who had spent much of his career wearing feathered floppy hats and bright plush velvet jackets, not to mention walking with a cane for non-medical reasons, how else would he expect the viewing public to remember him?

After about 15 minutes or so of these street interchanges, we stopped for a quick lunch. The surreal quality of the afternoon was enhanced by his overall air of resignation and his decidedly un-Huggylike lack of savoir-faire.

After lunch, he decided he wanted to stop back at his apartment for a quick moment. Once there, I waited politely as he rummaged through his things. Suddenly the phone rang. Fargas grabbed it, stating to the person on the other end, "Yeah, I'm here. No, no, I can't. I got a red dress here."

Now, what a red dress is I had, and to this day still have, no idea. In fact, I'm afraid to find out. Whatever it is or was, it evidently meant me — and I didn't like the sound of it.

Begging off for another appointment, I started out the door. Fargas asked what direction I was going and offered to share a cab. Feeling safe enough with that, I agreed.

During the ride, he offered the information that he was going for "a massage" and asked if I'd like to join him, his treat. It didn't take much decision-making on my part to come to a quick answer: no.

Well, ol' Huggy and I parted ways and I thought I'd heard the last of him, but it wasn't so. Like herpes and friends' birthdays, some things have a way of turning up again and again, offering you another of life's small surprises.

On a hunch, when the phone rang at 1 a.m. some midweek night the next month, I let the machine get it.

"Hey, it's Fargas," came the familiar voice. "What're you doing? Let's get a car and go to Atlantic City, play some cards."

I turned the answering machine's sound back down, my potential life as a red dress forever nipped in the bud.

Some might say I opted for the road less adventurous. But, let's face it, sometimes you just have to cut your losses and get some sleep.

Dorian Devins is the host of "Speakeasy," a weekly radio talk show featuring interviews and the occasional opinion piece. The program is broadcast from New York City, where Devins lives, at 6 p.m Mondays on WFMU (91.1 FM, A red dress does not hang in her closet.

LIVING OUT LOUD is a rotating blend of essays and editorials by CityBeat staff and friends about life or something like it.