The majority of the press surrounding Michael Alig’s release from prison has primarily dealt with the crime that landed him there for 17 years: the co-murder and dismemberment of fellow club kid Andre “Angel” Melendez.
Anyone who’s seen Party Monster knows that story. What’s curious is how Alig plans to use his new freedom – which, two weeks in, doesn’t yet feel like freedom at all.
“I literally left from the van from the facility into a van packed with my friends and a news crew,” says Alig after we meet up with him in the East Village, one of his old haunts. “I went from prison’s watchful eye to three cameras on me asking ‘What does it feel like to be free!?!?!’ and I didn’t even feel free enough to have a natural reaction.”’
It’s been suggested to Alig, who is under the daily care of a court ordered therapist and drug counselor, that if he’s going to be conducting so many interviews (sometimes up to four a day), he should hold off on getting a job for a few months so he can acclimate back into society slowly. So far “slowly” hasn’t been an option for Alig.
“I thought there’d maybe be one or two publications interested, but I honestly had no idea that there’d be people waiting at the gate when I got out, and that TMZ would be following me through the West Village,” he says. “I guess it’s just a different world where there’s so much media now that they need something to fill it up.”
New York’s original club kid is careful to point out that he hopes people are interested in him for the good stuff he did in the first chapter of his life as a party promoter, rather than for what that lifestyle led him to become (a drug addict and a murderer). But he knows better.
“I hope people aren’t mesmerized by the bad things, because that’s sickening to me a little bit,” says Alig. “It never occurred to me that anyone with a rational mind would be celebrating a crime, or celebrating the notoriety of a crime such as this, and yet it seems like people are.”
While waiting for Alig outside of Ray’s Candy Store, we had spotted him on the corner fumbling with his notebook, presumably looking for the address where he was to meet us. Wearing gray jeans and a red t-shirt reading “Call My Agent,” he seemed an easy mix of nervous, excited, and eager to please.
“Obviously there’s something about my personality, which is why I’ve always done what I’ve done, from planning parties to starting the club kids, that is very needy and attention seeking,” he says. “We were all the same way, my friends and I, and we gravitated towards each other and that’s why the club kids came about. Obviously I can’t say that side of me doesn’t exist, but I’m not crazy for it like I used to be.”
While he can’t help but enjoy the current attention, he can at no time allow himself to forget why he’s receiving it. Playing off the fact that he was called “candy man” in school for selling sweets out of a shoe box, we try to get him to pose with an ice cream cone and he refuses.
“I just have to be very careful,” says Alig. “I don’t ever want to make it seem like I’m making light of the situation or what I’ve done. I’d feel awful if Angel’s brother drove by and saw me smiling and laughing in the sun licking on an ice cream cone. That would be so terrible.”
We move across the street to find a bench to sit on in Tompkins Square Park and he remarks on how everyone is so fashionable. “It used to be that only some people were fabulous and fashionable, but now it seems like everyone is to some degree.”
Revisiting the fact that he’s surprised by all the fuss being made about his release, he says that he’s not surprised that a good portion of it has been negative, but that he is shocked by the amount of nasty comments he’s been seeing on the internet following articles that have been coming out.
“I was up until 2 a.m. this morning because of some ridiculous comment on one of the articles on me. Some person was saying that he knew that I had woken up the day Angel was killed with full intention of killing someone that day, and it just happened to be him. It just hit me in the gut like, do people honestly believe that we just woke up that morning and said, ‘You know what? Let’s go kill somebody’? First of all, if that had been the case, we would have hopefully gotten away with it.”
Alig’s plans for the future seem to be split between pitching TV show ideas to places such as MTV and VICE, working on writing projects, and doing mentoring and community outreach work. All of which suggests a fork in the road leading towards his previous life as a social figure and party boy, or towards a new muted, responsible life of remorseful servitude. It’s easy to wonder if he’s conflicted as to which “him” he wants to be now.
“Of course I feel conflicted,” says Alig. “The other day I was at Century 21, which was my first time being in a department store after 17 years, and a part of me felt so excited to be back with my friends, forgiven, and not having to worry. I felt so grateful. And then I’m thinking about Angel’s family and how they’re never going to get him back and here I am at Century 21 buying Calvin Klein socks.”
Everything about his life now is that same mix of bittersweet relief, enjoyment, and painful sadness and shame. “I need to forgive myself if I’m gonna do any good for anybody,” says Alig.
Against his therapists’ wishes, he has been looking into a few mentoring jobs in the city, all of which he’s been turned down for so far. “My friend James St. James said that if I get turned down again that we should just start up our own program, and even though he was probably kidding, I kind of think it’s a good idea.”
Asked about rumors that he may possibly be taking on the role of publicist for The Pizza Underground (the jokey band of Macaulay Culkin, who played Alig in the film about his life and downfall, Party Monster) Alig hinted that any friendship between the two personalities was rocky at best. “Well, according to the Enquirer he’s mad at me for being in the spotlight when he’s not, and that he’s going to use me to get back in. So I don’t know.”
Toward the end of our time together we present Alig with a box of cronuts, having read that trying one was one of the first things he wanted to do after his release. We’d assumed that he’d already had one during his first few days out, but he hadn’t, and upon opening the box he burst into tears.
“Obviously I want this, but I just don’t feel like I deserve it. I mean, it would be horrible not to eat it, but I just feel so awful.”
He ate the decadent pastry in between sobs and revealed that he was tempted to not even come back to New York after his release, but that his parole stipulations made it not a possibility. “First of all I had to come back, plus I don’t know where else I could survive,” says Alig. “Los Angeles is so superficial. I mean, New York is, too, but at least here we have a sense of humor about it.”
Our last question to Alig is how he spends his time at the end of the day, and what it feels like when he’s alone with his thoughts at night. “After I’ve done everything I have to do, I allow myself the guilty pleasure of Googling things and going on dating sites,” he says. “I basically keep myself busy until I can’t help but fall asleep. I have to do that because I’m worried about laying in bed and not being able to turn my brain off, and what that’ll feel like then.”
With cronut crumbs on his lips and tears in his eyes, it’s hard not to like Alig. Time will tell if his 17 years in prison will keep him from gaining any more bad notoriety, but it’s easy to believe him when he says that he wants to help people learn from his mistakes.
As we pack up to leave he collects himself and asks when the article will run, and then we watch him walk down Avenue A, on to the next thing.