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May 11, 2023 46 mins

In this episode, we take a look back at Damon’s life before SNCTM — a story that is both spectacular and harrowing. Damon and his younger sister Hadria reflect on growing up in the Bay Area in the 1970s, in an environment laced with alcohol, drugs, neglect and abuse. These early experiences establish a sharp contrast between success and scarcity in Damon’s life as he dabbles in modeling, real estate, and starting a family – before finally losing everything and fleeing to Bali. And somehow, all of this leads him to launching “the most elite sex club in the world.” 

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
School of Humans.

Speaker 2 (00:06):
This episode contains graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse and
drug addiction. Please use discretion when listening. To understand Damon
today his ideas about sex and money and status and
drugs and parenthood. It takes looking back at his history.
Damon's success with Sanctum and his ability to create this

(00:28):
world of excess and status and wealth didn't come out
of nowhere. So let's go back for a minute to
the nineteen seventies to Marin County, California. If you drive
over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, that's Marin.
One might call it the heart of the self obsessed seventies.

(00:49):
Out of the hangover of the sixties counterculture and protest
movements came the human Potential movement, and Marin was at
the center of that. Fads of the time included transcendental meditation,
zen jogging, organic food, cocaine, wife swapping, and just generally
getting in touch with your true self, whatever that means

(01:12):
to you. This is where Damon Launer grew up among
the hot tubs and redwood forests. On today's episode, we're
going to take a look back at Damon's life before
Sanctum to piece together exactly how he ended up where
he did, and it's a pretty wild story, at times
dark and harrowing and other times truly spectacular. Welcome to

(01:37):
Sanctum Unmasked. I'm your host, Carl Schortino. Damon wrote a
memoir a few years back. It was never published, but
still he's done some digging into his past, which we
used as a reference for some of what we talk
about in this episode. Now, when Damon describes nineteen seventies Marin,

(01:57):
he really lights up.

Speaker 1 (02:01):
It was a really amazing time, you know, hippies in
the park and music. The Grateful Dead and bands like
that when they were first getting started, would come into
the town where I lived, which is called Fairfax, and
play music. My dad was a classically trained violinist, so
he played in the Grateful Dad.

Speaker 2 (02:19):
At times in the band might be a stretch, but
this is how Damon explains it.

Speaker 1 (02:24):
They would do these really long sets and then would
break for like an hour in between sets, and he'd
go up on stage in this red flowing robe and
play electric violin and he would probably be on LSD
and just make all these noises and everything. And I mean,
he was a really trippy guy, and he was someone
who was really kind of anti society if he was
just a very freethinking guy.

Speaker 2 (02:45):
But Damon's life at home was far less zen than
the one outside. That same care free, trippy dad also
had a darker side.

Speaker 1 (02:54):
I mean, my dad certainly would do cocaine and get high.
I think he was doing heroin at one point too't
realize it at the time, but he was fucked up
around me a lot. I didn't understand this when I
was a kid, but I do now. When he'd come down,
he'd be very angry, and he'd be violent. This is
like five years old to seven, eight, nine, ten years old,
you know, pick me up, slamming against doors, tell me
I'm a fucking piece of shit, like just you know,

(03:17):
just be this really evil person.

Speaker 2 (03:19):
Most of the time, Damon and his younger sister Hadria
lived with their mom, who wrote poetry, and their stepdad,
a clothing designer with a Jim Morrison vibe. But life
with mom wasn't easy either.

Speaker 1 (03:33):
My mom was very much the same. We all knew
something was off. She was an alcoholic, she was in
abusive relationships. She was an absolutely beautiful woman who over
time just really deteriorated. There were nice when there was
no dinner. There were mornings where there was no breakfast.
There's no food in the house. I'm going across the
street to get toast.

Speaker 3 (03:52):
In Cereal.

Speaker 1 (03:53):
When I was seven eight years old going to school,
there were no clean clothes to wear, there were no haircuts.

Speaker 3 (03:59):
It was very chaotic.

Speaker 2 (04:02):
In his memoir, Damon writes that he and Hadria became
inseparable in the midst of the chaos. We verified as
much of the story as we could, but obviously childhood
memories are difficult to fact check, so we asked Hadria
to fill in some of the gaps. She's a year
and a half younger than Damon, and the two of
them are still really close to this day.

Speaker 4 (04:21):
Well, as they call it today, trauma bonding.

Speaker 3 (04:24):
I'm going to get emotional.

Speaker 4 (04:26):
We were very close because of it, Like we would
hide under the bed and cry or be afraid, but
we were like, you know, we'd watch what was going
on and just we had each other.

Speaker 2 (04:37):
You know, Damon and Hadria have that kind of sibling
relationship that I love where they obviously adore each other,
but they also love to troll each other or at
least she does. She describes Damon as a kid who
had a really crazy imagination, which, if you've been listening
to this podcast tracks.

Speaker 4 (04:57):
I feel like when we were really young, he definitely
had a lot of big idea. Yes, Like he would say, oh, yeah,
we drive around in like Ferraris and live in a mansion,
and I'd be like, yeah, it's true. Now that I
say that, I wonder if that was kind of like
in a skate because our life was so shitty and
so the opposite of that that, you know, it was

(05:19):
like a fantasy.

Speaker 2 (05:20):
Looking back, the seventies was a time famous for its
lax and arguably neglectful parenting styles, a time before people
cared about car seats or sunscreen or just like supervision
in general. But Damon's parents took this to a whole
other level. He recalls having this eerie feeling of being

(05:40):
invisible for much of his childhood.

Speaker 1 (05:43):
We were like the ghosts in the room, you know,
like we didn't exist. They just did what they wanted
to do, and that included drugs, alcohol, sex.

Speaker 3 (05:51):
We were exposed to all of that.

Speaker 4 (05:53):
That's where we grew up witnessing a lot of things
that were super inappropriate. So there's certain experience is that
I remember, like, Okay, my mom was giving my step
daud a blowjob, Like he was standing up against the
wall in the living room giving him a blowjob, and
I'm like, what are you doing? Like I didn't know,
but I remember it being uncomfortable, and I remember like

(06:14):
seeing his penis hard and wet, and I remember being like,
something's wrong. I felt uncomfortable and I'm like, Mom, what
are you doing? Because I didn't know what it was.
She's like, I'm getting my child support. Like I remember
her saying that, like she was, you know, trying to
get money from him, and that was how she got it.

Speaker 1 (06:32):
My mom was just like a very overly sexualized person.
So like my stepdad had this van that he would
drive around in with this bed in the back, one
of those like old seventies, you know, vans with the
carpeting and velvet seats. I remember specifically this one time,
I'm six or seven, my sister's five years old or something.
My mom's friend starts sucking my stepdad's father in the

(06:55):
front seat of the van. They're drunk. My sister and
I are in the back of the van. The curs
are not closed all the way. And then my mom
and my mom's friend getting this fight, you know, like
I don't want you sucking his cop you know whatever
it was, This stuff is filtering through me.

Speaker 2 (07:14):
What Damon and Hadria experienced was clearly something no children
should have been exposed to. In our conversations, Damon was
also very candid about a period of his childhood where
he was molested by a female relative who was a
teenager at the time, and the deeply complicated reality of
this experience. Now, we want to be careful when talking

(07:35):
about sexual abuse. Our hope is that by sharing, other
survivors will feel less alone. With that in mind, the
next two minute section includes a description that listeners may
find disturbing. Here's Damon.

Speaker 1 (07:48):
When she would be over at the house. She would
come into my bedroom late at night and she would
experiment with me. I'm five six years old, so my
dick is like the size of my pinky now, right,
But she would give me head and we would have sex.
So I was, you know, having some form of sex
or being molested. I mean, that's really what was going
on at five six years old. The thing though, at

(08:10):
that age for people out there that have or haven't
experienced that is, there's pleasure in it. You know, it
feels good. So it's very fucking confusing because you feel
this feeling that feels really good, and you don't know
when you're that age that it's like really fucking wrong,
you know, like, that's not okay. It really wasn't until
I had my own kids and I saw them at

(08:31):
five six years old, and I was like, my god, like,
how the fuck did that happen? Why wasn't anyone watching
or there to protect me or there to stop that
kind of stuff. But I mean because they were all
fucked up, you know.

Speaker 4 (08:47):
He says, it's almost like a dream. But I remember
it perfectly because I was there. But I didn't realize
that anything was wrong. Neither did he. We just thought
this is normal, and in fact, I was like, oh,
what's going on? I want to do it too. And
now obviously that I'm older, I'm like, oh, my god,
that was not a good thing. But then at the

(09:09):
time she was molesting him, she was also being molested
by our stepfather, so it's kind of like she was
copying what was happening to her to my brother, and
I was just there witnessing it.

Speaker 2 (09:28):
Clearly, Damon and Hadriat were not being protected by the
people who were supposed to be looking out for them,
and this is the environment where they spent their formative years.
But then every summer from the time he was six
years old into his early teens, Damon's paternal grandparents would
fly him and his sister out to their home in Woodmere,

(09:48):
a rich suburb on Long Island, New York. Damon's grandfather
was a wealthy businessman. He and Damon's grandmother lived in
a seven bedroom mansion. The experience was basically the photo
negative of their life in California.

Speaker 3 (10:02):
New York was heaven.

Speaker 4 (10:04):
It was the best thing in the world. Like, we
went from this dark place and then we would go
see my grandparents, who were wealthy, had a big home,
tennis court, swimming pool.

Speaker 1 (10:18):
I mean, it couldn't have been more polar opposite. We
had this idyllic experience. I mean, my grandma would wake
up every single morning and make French toast and pancakes.

Speaker 3 (10:27):
The pantry was.

Speaker 1 (10:28):
Filled with cereal and cookies and chips.

Speaker 4 (10:31):
My mom didn't even make sure that we had food,
you know, I was like so fucking hungry all the time.
My grandparents just had food and we got to experience normalcy.
It saved our lives.

Speaker 1 (10:44):
I think a lot of my father's family they're great people,
you know, and they would take care of us. We
go bowling, and I mean, maybe that's actually what you're
supposed to have, you know. I definitely had this early
realization that you can be poor and drugs and you know,
be violent and be those kinds of people, or you
could be like really wealthy and have it together and

(11:08):
have a beautiful life.

Speaker 2 (11:10):
At various points, Damon's grandparents fought to keep Damon and
his sister living with them full time, but Damon's mother
wasn't having it. As Demon remembers it, their mom would
accuse their grandparents of kidnapping, which would ultimately result in
the children being put on a plane back to chaos
in California. It was like whiplash. Deamon grew into a

(11:32):
pretty rebellious teen. This is the late eighties moving into
the nineties, the era of Ferris Bueller and Heathers and
just general bad boy fuck school delinquent energy. Fittingly, teenage,
Damon developed a real skill for lying, just like when
he was a kid. If he didn't like something about
his reality, he'd just tell a different story. He lived

(11:55):
his life in sort of truths. It was a way
to feel special in a world where we often felt
the exact opposite. He likes telling people that his dad
was in the Grateful Dead rather than the reality, which
is that a few times his dad got high and
made weird sounds on an electric violin between dead sets.
Damon was also a particularly talented thief. At one point,

(12:17):
when he was seventeen, he stole a duffel back with
over four hundred thousand dollars in it from a local
drug dealer's house. It was his friend's dad. Actually, it
was only after the guy came to Damon's school and
threatened to kill him that Damon gave it back. I mean,
most of us go through a shoplifting phase his kids,
but rarely does it go that far. Kind of impressive, honestly.

(12:42):
Damon was also notably very handsome. He wasn't so aware
of his looks back then, but in hindsight.

Speaker 1 (12:49):
Looking back at pictures of myself, I can say this
very clearly. I mean, I'm like a specimen. I'm a
gorgeous kid. I really am, I mean, perfect body. I'm
totally into sports. I don't do any drugs or drink
because I've totally rebuilding as my parents. I'm like, I
never want to be like them. I never want to drink.
I never want to do drugs. That shit is fucked up.
So I am like healthy. I just looked like this

(13:10):
gorgeous California surfer boy.

Speaker 2 (13:13):
One day, when Damon was nineteen, he was out skateboarding
in San Francisco with some of his friends when this
guy walks up and he's like, hey, kid, can I
take some photos of you. I'm a model scout. Damon
didn't know what that meant, but the guy explained that
his job was basically to look for people to model
in fashion campaigns for big brands like Calvin Klein.

Speaker 3 (13:33):
For example.

Speaker 2 (13:34):
Remember Calvin Klein was the epitome of nineties school like
those minimalist black and white photos of Kate Moss and
Mark Wahlberg looking impossibly hot in their briefs iconic.

Speaker 1 (13:45):
I knew about Calvin Klein because Marky Mark was like
this Calvin Klemont and we all saw those ads. You know,
him in his underwear, and so I remember when he
said that. I was like, oh, where You're like thinking
like I could be one of those models, And he
was like, yeah, I really do. I'm asked to come
into this audition and it was for a brand I'd
never heard of, Johnny VERSACEI.

Speaker 2 (14:06):
In other words, one of the biggest fashion brands in
the world. So damon naive to the world of high fashion,
shows up to this Versace casting without a clue what
that means, and he's intimidated. He's up against all these
experienced models. Meanwhile, he's just rocked up from the skate park.

Speaker 1 (14:25):
I'm sitting in this room with all these male models.
I'm like five foot ten. You know, I'm not gonna
get any taller. They're like six foot three. They're all
really handsome men. They've got these big books of all
their photographs, you know, and all this stuff.

Speaker 3 (14:37):
And I was like, what the fuck.

Speaker 1 (14:39):
Am I doing here? And I go in and I
meet this photographer named Bruce Weber.

Speaker 2 (14:44):
Bruce Weber, if you're not familiar, he's one of the
most influential fashion photographers of all time. He shot campaigns
for everyone from Ralph Lauren to Calvin Klein to Abercamie
and Fitch covers of Vogue and Rolling Stone.

Speaker 3 (14:58):
You get the idea.

Speaker 2 (14:59):
Anyway, Damian doesn't know who this guy is or how
important he is in the industry, but he does want
to make a good impression. So when Bruce Weber asked
him some questions about himself, Demon whips up some of
his classic white lies. For instance, he tells Bruce that
he's headed to an Ivy League university to study philosophy
after the summer, when in reality, he's going to the

(15:21):
College of Marin aka the community college in the town
where he grew up. Eventually, Bruce asked Damon to take
off his shirt and spin around and then sends him
on his way, and Damon leaves the casting and feeling
like what the hell was the point of that? A
week later, he gets a call he booked the job.

Speaker 1 (15:39):
This photographer was. I know, he just made me feel
like really beautiful. I mean it was a different kind
of interaction than I ever had. It was this big
set with all of these people and all of these models,
and there was tons of money and fancy hotel rooms
and like they treated you so well, and it was like, wow,
this is a cool world, Like what is this world?

Speaker 2 (16:00):
The shoe became a major campaign in all the big
fashion magazines. Then a week after the ads started running,
he gets another call. Bruce Weber wants to shoot him
with supermodel Christy Turlington, this time for Calvin Klein Hot.

Speaker 1 (16:15):
It just opened the door to this whole like Los
Angeles kind of scene. I had a billboard on Sunset Boulevard,
Like I could walk out of the nightclubs on Sunset
Boulevard in the late eighties early nineties and I'm on
the fucking billboard. You know.

Speaker 3 (16:29):
It was like, how the fuck did this happen?

Speaker 2 (16:31):
After that, Damon got an agent and moved down to
La He spent the next handful of years on the
model circuit, working everywhere from New York to Japan. He
started booking commercials. Then he met the actor Jared Leto,
who at the time was on a show called My
So Called Life, one of the seminal shows of My
youth if anyone cares inspired by Jared. James started thinking

(16:52):
about being an actor. He started taking lessons, and he
was taking it pretty seriously. He even did a mid
level production of Shakespeare's The Tempest Cliche Yet Cheek. But
this is when things started to fall apart, the attention,
hustling for fame, the endless, often dehumanizing cattle call of

(17:12):
castings and auditions. It was a lot of pressure. Eventually,
in order to deal with his anxiety, demon gave up
on sobriety and turned to booze. Now the demons of
his traumatic past are catching up with him. And then
at a certain point even alcohol wasn't enough.

Speaker 1 (17:30):
I was one of those people that was just like
sabotaging myself all the time in so many ways. And
I ended up, actually around twenty five, addicted to heroin.
And from twenty five to twenty six, all I wanted
to do was just you know, be cooped up in
this little apartment. I was basically selling drugs to survive,
and I was doing heroin. I had so much pain

(17:52):
that I could not understand how to deal with. I mean,
my childhood fucked me up and that pain was unresolved.
Heroine made me feel comfortable, It made me feel okay,
and it made the thoughts of everything that had happened
to me as a kid just like kind of like
float away. My parents, my friends, everyone was like, you

(18:14):
gotta stop, man, you know you're gonna die.

Speaker 3 (18:16):
And I didn't care.

Speaker 1 (18:17):
Having so much trauma inside and not knowing how to
deal with it, death sounded like a really good option.

Speaker 2 (18:36):
The next year of Damon's life played like a nineties
Gus Van Samp movie, basically just being hot and on
drugs and that's about it. He bailed on la in
his dreams of being an actor and moved back to
Northern California, and if even death from an overdose wasn't
incentive enough to get clean, he figured this was probably

(18:57):
it for him. But then one day, Deamon gets a
call from his grandfather, and his grandfather basically tells him, look, dude,
if you don't go to rehab, I'm taking you out
of my will. And this was the kick that Damon needed.

Speaker 1 (19:11):
For some reason. And maybe this goes to how fucked
up I really was at that time. The thought of
maybe one d getting some money when I didn't know
how I was going to make a living, and I
didn't know what I was doing, and I kind of
just liked doing drugs, and like fucking off, you know
that I was going to get some money at some point,
and that he was telling me, like go to rehab,
or that's never going to happen.

Speaker 3 (19:29):
If I'm going to be honest, that was the spark.

Speaker 2 (19:32):
In other words, if I don't die, I'm eventually going
to need that money to buy drugs. So he appeases
his grandfather and heads to rehab.

Speaker 1 (19:41):
Within like two weeks of rehab, I was like, what
the fuck was I thinking? You know, the fog clears.
I got my soul back in rehab. I was getting
therapy in rehab. I was talking about what got me
there every single day. You know, that's all you're doing
is talking about your child, and you're talking about all
these issues I really hadn't done yet. And I was
hearing other people and hearing them share similar stories, and

(20:04):
I was like.

Speaker 3 (20:05):
Oh, fuck, okay, there's a way out.

Speaker 2 (20:08):
But one Stanton therapy doesn't reboot your entire personality. Believe me,
I've tried. And a week before Damon was supposed to
be released from rehab, he actually got kicked out because
while he was caught fucking a female patient, which isn't allowed,
very unbrand for him. But despite that, the important thing

(20:29):
was that he'd gotten clean, and so he leaves rehab
with a new lease on life, and just a month
later he's out at a club in San Francisco, sober
Now and he finds a new fix.

Speaker 1 (20:41):
I'm off of Heroin for about a month and I
meet this girl and she's literally the most beautiful thing
I've ever seen in my life.

Speaker 3 (20:47):
I couldn't believe it.

Speaker 1 (20:49):
I see this girl and I'm like, where did she
come from? Absolutely as far as I'm concerented perfection, and
we ended up meaning up and we just I've had
this like unfucking believable connection.

Speaker 2 (21:04):
This girl, you might have guessed, was Melissa.

Speaker 5 (21:08):
Nineteen ninety six, San Francisco ten fifteen full Sums like
a nightclub and I was eighteen and I used to
sneak in there with my girlfriend, go dancing and smoke cigarettes,
be older. And I was there one night and he
was there, and just it was like in the movies
when the whole world stops and he comes walking towards

(21:30):
me and he just sits right down and it was
like boom done. He has a charisma, this sparkly energy
that exudes out of him. I mean, he's just attractive
in all of these ways and larger than life.

Speaker 1 (21:47):
I go home and I tell my mom, I'm like, mom,
I met the girl I'm gonna marry like, this is
the person I want to be with for the rest
of my life.

Speaker 5 (21:55):
We are together ever since I left my parents' house.
I moved in with him. We were connected at the
hip from that moment on. Honestly, you never saw one
without the other. Doctor's appointment, Dennis appointment, Come with me here,
let's go here, you know what I mean. So we
were best friends and living the life for better or worse.

Speaker 2 (22:15):
But Melissa did give him one condition. She said, if
you ever do Heroin again, I'm going to fucking leave you,
And he was like, I'm in.

Speaker 1 (22:25):
If it wasn't for meeting her, I would have I'm
sure I would have gone back to Heroin at some
point at that time, at twenty six years old, Melissa
undoubtedly saved my life.

Speaker 2 (22:36):
Damon was trying to focus on the positive. He was
off Heroin, he was in love, his life was on
the upswing again, and interestingly, one unexpected upside of Damon
being a junkie was that one of his Heroin buddies
was a guy who owned investment properties in San Francisco
back in the day. They'd get high together and he'd

(22:57):
rant and flex about everything he knew about real estate.
So once Damon gets out of rehab, he comes up
with a plan to flip a rundown, three story Victorian
home he'd found in San Francisco. So he lays out
this strategy to his grandfather, who goes for it. He
loans Damon one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the
down payment. So Damon and Melissa move in and they

(23:18):
start fixing the place up.

Speaker 1 (23:20):
So Melissa and I went to work on like restoring
this old Victorian. To the two of us, we'd wake
up every morning and just like paint and I'd be
on the floor sanding, and we turned this fucking raggedy
old Victorian apartment in San Francisco into somebody that was
pretty nice. We had this unbelievable life there. We would
go out to raves, we were doing molly and just
partying and just like enjoying the fuck out of life.

Speaker 2 (23:42):
If this were today, they'd be one of those annoyingly
symmetrical TikTok influencer couples who do diy home renovation. Just saying, now,
while Damon was off heroin, he still wasn't sober, so
there was no reason to not consume his body weight
in other white powders. Over the next couple of years,
Damon and Melissa did an impressive amount of partying in

(24:05):
There are moments of vague sobriety. Damon played in a
band that was getting some traction, and Melissa was modeling
doing the Runway Show circuit in Milan, New York. In Paris,
things were going well. A couple of years in Melissa
got interested in moving to la to pursue acting, so
they sold the remodel Victorian for over a million dollars,
way more than he'd paid for it, and after paying

(24:27):
back his grandfather, Damon had seven hundred thousand dollars in
his pocket. So they started house hunting.

Speaker 1 (24:33):
So we go to LA and we find this cool
house right above the Chateau Marmont, which is this really
famous hotel in Los Angeles where all the rock stars
and movie stars you know, are in that block. And
then this whole other life begins in La.

Speaker 5 (24:49):
I saw us as this incredible kind of modern bohemian couple.
We had our beautiful home above the Chateau Marmont, and
we were fixing it up and like doing it ourselves.
And we were like really invested in our life and
doing everything together, and we had fabulous dinner parties.

Speaker 2 (25:09):
He and Melissa were basically living that stereotypical cool kid
La lifestyle. She was twenty three, he was thirty. They
were more in love than ever, and on the morning
of their fifth anniversary, they impulsively fly to Vegas and
get married.

Speaker 1 (25:24):
Melissa and I were like the it couple. We were
the couple that everyone kind of wanted to be, So
no matter where we went, people would be like, oh.

Speaker 3 (25:29):
My god, you guys are so beautiful, and we'd.

Speaker 1 (25:31):
Be like, yeah, come back to our house. We live
right above the chateau, Like, let's do some fucking drugs
and party all night.

Speaker 2 (25:36):
Damon and Melissa bought their house in La at the
perfect time, during the real estate dip of the early
two thousands following nine to eleven. The home they bought
for seven hundred thousand dollars was quickly worth one point
five million, which is a positive obviously, but there was
one little glitch.

Speaker 1 (25:53):
I began to kind of live on credit, so I
would pull money out of my house as needed. I just,
you know, got in touch to the bank and got
a house worth a bunch of money. I own it,
so getting a loan from them was real easy. I
guess write checks, but at that time banks were lending like, yeah,
here we go. Are you breathing and do you have equity? Okay,

(26:13):
then you can get a loan.

Speaker 2 (26:15):
So they're living off the equity of the house, and
Damon is busy with different entrepreneurial ventures. He launches an
energy dream company called Marquee Platinum, and he invests a
half a million dollars into an LA restaurant called Bridge.
In their free time, Damon and Melissa attempted to counteract
the copious amounts of drugs they were taking with facials

(26:35):
and massages and health food restaurants. For clarity, this is
why rich people look younger than everyone else. But at
some point, for Melissa, the partying was starting to get old.
She wanted to slow down, which wasn't the news Damon
wanted to hear.

Speaker 3 (26:51):
She wanted to.

Speaker 1 (26:54):
Have more of a traditional life, you know, have children,
kind of down. That wasn't really my idea. I didn't
really want to do that. I just wanted to be selfish.
I just wanted her and me to be selfish and
just enjoy life together. For as long as we could
ride this thing out. And she didn't want to be

(27:14):
selfish anymore. She wanted to create a child and be
a different kind of person, which is so beautiful, but
I wasn't ready for that.

Speaker 2 (27:22):
Funny thing about babies is that they're narcissists who don't
care about your timeline.

Speaker 3 (27:27):
And guess what.

Speaker 2 (27:28):
In two thousand and five, Melissa found out she was
pregnant on New Year's Eve, of all nights. When Damon
heard the news, he was like, well, I already bought
an eight ball of really good coke and I've got
friends over, so would you mind if I got high
and partied? Then he went on an insane bender. I'm
sure Melissa was thrilled, but it turned out he was

(27:49):
more ready to be a dad than he thought.

Speaker 1 (27:53):
When she had our first child, it changed me for sure,
and I just fell madly in love. I mean, I'd
never felt a feeling like that. You can't know what
that feeling is until you hold your child in your arms,
and I couldn't wait to like see this little baby
grow up.

Speaker 2 (28:11):
He recalls that time after his daughter was born as
the happiest of his life, and he made his best
attempt in a more settled, conventional lifestyle, you know, strollers,
baby clothes, literal silver spoons.

Speaker 3 (28:24):
They sold their place.

Speaker 2 (28:25):
Above the chateau and bought a house in Hancock Park, which,
if you don't know LA is basically an upscale, bougie neighborhood,
great farmer's market.

Speaker 3 (28:33):
I recommend My.

Speaker 1 (28:35):
Own view is that I was a really like present
and loving, an active father. But that didn't mean that
I got sober. It didn't mean that, you know, I
stopped some of my behavior and stuff like that. I
think what it meant was that a struggle began to
really be a good man and to get my shit together.

Speaker 2 (28:52):
That push and pull between the desire to be an
upstanding family man and his impulse to stay out until
six am every night grinding his tea with a bunch
of bless celebrities would continue on for years to come,
well into his time at Sanctum. I mean, if you've
been paying attention, you probably get this by now.

Speaker 1 (29:10):
I remember this one night, but I went out with
a friend, you know, we started drinking and then I
ended up with like, you know, just all of the
like it girls who were doing everything wrong. And I'm
there until fucking the sun comes. I've got I've got
a two three year old child at home with my wife,
and I'm like partying like a fucking crazy person, Like

(29:31):
back into that lifestyle. And I remember I came home
at six o'clock in the morning, the sun's up. Melissa
sees me walking up the backstairs to our place and
I'm like, I don't know what I did with my keys.
I mean, I'm like fucked up, and she's like, just
go sleep in your car. I put her through shit
like that, you know that's not okay.

Speaker 2 (29:53):
For years, Damon had shunned drugs and alcohol because, in
his words, he never wanted to be like his parents,
sobriety wasn't sustainable for him. But one line that he
said he never crossed was being intoxicated around his kids.

Speaker 1 (30:07):
The thought of exposing my kids, you know, to any
of that kind of behavior, I couldn't live with myself.
I can't even think of a time when I haven't
been sober around them because of what I experienced as
a kid, I think I went overboard and trying to
make sure that they never saw me that way.

Speaker 2 (30:24):
Still, in pretty quick succession, Damon and Melissa have another daughter.
While all this is happening, Damon's still borrowing a lot
of money from the bank and he's not conservative about it.

Speaker 3 (30:34):
To put it.

Speaker 2 (30:35):
Lightly, They've got the bougie La couple, starter pack, the
big house, the Porsche, the land Rover, designer bags, and
they're not really making any money. I mean, I'm bad
at math, but even I can see that those numbers
don't add up.

Speaker 3 (30:51):
I had created this really big life for us.

Speaker 1 (30:53):
You know, we were flying on private jets with celebrities.
I had a Black American Express Card and if you
don't know what that is, you have to spend a
minimum of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year
on your Platinum American Express Card to get a Black card.
The main difference is its ability to make everyone you're
with feel like they are below you.

Speaker 3 (31:15):
I was that guy.

Speaker 1 (31:16):
I was at LA guy, that successful guy with a
wife and two little girls and a white pick of fence.
But yeah, in the back of my mind, I'm going
at some point, this train is going to pull into
the station and I'm going to be fucked.

Speaker 2 (31:33):
And then came the financial crisis of two thousand and eight,
and spoiler alert that didn't help people living high on
home equity. There's a pivotal moment from that time when
the scales fell away from Damon's eyes, and it couldn't
be more cinematic.

Speaker 3 (31:48):
I'm in Whole Foods.

Speaker 1 (31:50):
I go to the checkout and it's one hundred and
twenty bucks for the groceries, and the car gets declined.
And another feature of the UH Black card is it
does not get the client. I had no way to
pay for those groceries and not American Express card. When
I get to the client, I was like, this is the
end of the road, you know, like it's done.

Speaker 3 (32:13):
I Am done this.

Speaker 1 (32:15):
Whatever life I thought I had, it's over.

Speaker 3 (32:18):
Now.

Speaker 1 (32:21):
The symbol of wealth and success became this symbol of
like utter failure in that moment.

Speaker 2 (32:28):
All this time, Damon had been in charge of the
family cash flow and Melissa was busy with two babies. Essentially,
Demon had built the trappings of this bourgeois fantasy life
that he thought Melissa wanted, but unbeknownst to her, it
was all a house of cards.

Speaker 5 (32:46):
I was a new mom. I was also young, and
I wasn't really paying attention to our finances. I was
kind of just leaving that to him. I mean, I
do take responsibility. Like I didn't inquire. I wasn't in
our finances I should have been, so I didn't realize
how underwater we were, and we were like living this
lifestyle that I thought was all good, but it all

(33:07):
came crashing down.

Speaker 2 (33:09):
But it wasn't just about making Melissa happy. Damon also
wanted to keep up appearances with their rich celebrity friends
because he wanted their validation. I'm going slightly armchair therapy here,
but I have talked with Damon at length about how
ping ponging between chaotic poverty and rich comfort as a
kid is a dichotomy that he's replicated multiple times as

(33:32):
an adult. Eventually, it became more important for him that
they appeared rich than to accept that they were really,
really broke.

Speaker 3 (33:42):
It's all an illusion. But I didn't tell her that.

Speaker 1 (33:44):
I didn't tell her that until the very very end,
until the foreclosure notice gets taped onto the front door
of our place, until my brand new Porsche gets towed
out of the driveway by the repull man. At that point,
I couldn't hide it anymore. Yeah, she must have been
in literal shock.

Speaker 3 (34:02):
There were signs.

Speaker 1 (34:03):
It's not like she was completely in the dark. But
by the time I sort of like let her into
the secret that we were living on borrowed money.

Speaker 3 (34:13):
It was too late. It was too late. We were homeless.
That was it.

Speaker 2 (34:34):
They knew the bank was about to repossess all of
their assets, including their home, so they started selling everything
they could. Their furniture, Melissa's jewelry, Damon's rolex. Everything they
built was crumbling beneath them in the economic crisis. Damon's
energy during company fails, his restaurant fails. They're literally a
million dollars in debt to AMEX. Meanwhile, they have a

(34:57):
two year old and a newborn baby. So out of options,
Damon calls up his dad, who was living in Bali
at the time.

Speaker 3 (35:06):
I call him up.

Speaker 1 (35:07):
I said, Dad, I'm fucked like I have nothing. In fact,
I'm almost a million dollars in debt. And my dad says, well,
you know, if you're going to be homeless, Bali's a
good place to be homeless, he said. Food's cheap, you'll
be able to live. You'll be able to live out here.

Speaker 2 (35:21):
Now, flying to Bali with all of their worldly possessions,
stupped into seventeen suitcases was certainly not their life plan,
although to be honest, every time I've ever heard someone
talk about moving to Bali, it's somehow associated with a
mental breakdown. So actually it feels kind of fitting, so
they go. The plan was to stay in Bali for

(35:41):
a few months while they figured out their life. The
whole family moved into one room in Damon's dad's house.
It was tough, obviously, but there were things about being
there that they really loved.

Speaker 1 (35:53):
I mean, it's a cool fucking community. You don't need
anything but a pair of shorts, you right around on
a scooter, you don't need much money.

Speaker 3 (35:59):
So I felt like the first.

Speaker 1 (36:00):
Year that we were there, although we were dealing with,
you know, the trauma of what had just happened to us,
for me, I was like, oh my god, thank god,
there's something outside of like the Western materialistic, non stop
grind of trying to be someone and carry a fucking
black card and drive a portion, doing drugs with celebrities

(36:22):
and be this thing that I'm not really and then
I'm just trying to be to be cool or whatever
the fuck I was doing. Like this place was like
I couldn't have felt more free and in my element.

Speaker 3 (36:34):
I loved it.

Speaker 2 (36:35):
So they start settling in and they're making friends. I
mean they're good at that. They're fun and outgoing and
being ha Oways helps. So one night and Balie, Damon,
and Melissa are out at a bar. They're drinking and dancing,
and the owner comes over and says, hey, I've seen
you guys in here a couple times. You're always with
great people and I love your energy. Bring in a

(36:56):
group of your friends this weekend and I'll give you
free bottle service. Obviously, they're down, So they show up
with their friends and get drunk for free, and it
creates a fun vibe in the place. So the owner's like,
if you want to keep this going, i'll pay you
a percentage of the bar.

Speaker 1 (37:12):
At that moment, I was like, you can make money partying,
Like is this a thing? It was such a moment
of like, holy fuck, I can party with my friends
and get paid. Okay, this is something I can do.

Speaker 3 (37:30):
It's kind of funny.

Speaker 2 (37:32):
Yet again, it feels like these semi random opportunities just
fall into Damon's lab. It makes me think of that
quote from Zulander where He's like, I'm pretty sure there's
a lot more to life than just being really, really
ridiculously good looking. But then when you hear a story
like Damon's, you're like, is there. Soon Damon starts hosting

(37:54):
his own regular party at the bar, and he's packing
the place. Eventually, he starts approaching other venues about promoting
club nights, and over the next couple of years, Demon
becomes a big figure in Bali's night life scene, and
he's making pretty good money. What began as a plan
to stay in Bali for three months turns into three years. Hadria,

(38:15):
who was seeing all this from a distance, was slightly
bewildered by how everything was playing out for Damon.

Speaker 4 (38:22):
He would kind of leave a trail of ship behind him,
but he was in front of it, you know, like
somehow instead of paying the government or going to jail,
he just moved on. There they went. But it wasn't
like he had to clean up the mess. There's not
a sense of responsibility.

Speaker 2 (38:41):
I get what she's saying. Demon kind of reminds me
of that meme of the cartoon dog smiling and drinking
coffee as his house goes up in flames and he's like,
this is fine. To that point, there was this one
day in Bali when Demon was hosting a pool party
he created called Splash at the Kakum Beach Club, and
it gets a very special guest, this.

Speaker 1 (39:04):
Man who's a local Boalanese guy, very wealthy.

Speaker 2 (39:07):
You know.

Speaker 1 (39:07):
I was told he was a gangster. I didn't know
what that meant. He comes to one of my events
and I was told to treat him with respect, so
I did that. Then I like, you know, brought him
a bottle of champagne and I got along with him
really well, and we had this I thought, what was
a cool raport. Now I was making money and he
and his group weren't getting anything from that.

Speaker 3 (39:26):
You know.

Speaker 1 (39:26):
I wasn't slipping an envelope to these guys every month.
I didn't even know who they were. But apparently that's
something that other people were doing. So when he came
to my event and saw how popular it was and
how great it was, he wasn't there to become my friend.
He was there to like do reconnaissance.

Speaker 2 (39:42):
This guy was a powerful member of what is essentially
the Indonesian mafia. The following week, he gave Damon a
call and Damon Naively was like, yeah, hey, come back
next week. I'll put you on the guest list. Unfortunately,
the guy wanted more than to sit in an embarrassing
via IP area with a bunch of drunk influencers with

(40:02):
too much filler.

Speaker 1 (40:04):
And he says, you think I need you to put
me on the guest list. He's like, what the fuck
do you think you are? You're a dog, You're nothing.
He did end up taking me to an undisclosed location.
There were many armed men, guns drawn, and he starts
fucking with me, putting a gun to my head, putting
a gun in my mouth. I told him I have

(40:26):
some money in my safe. I said, look, I'm not rich.
He said, you're gonna give me what you have. I'll
fucking kill you. I'll kill your family. I'll bury you
in a fucking rice field. I don't give a fuck
about you. He kept telling me you're a fucking dog
in the street to me. So, yeah, that was fucking scary.

Speaker 2 (40:42):
Yikes. Still, somehow this didn't make Damon want to leave Bolli.
He felt like he could work things out with the
gangster who'd threatened to bury him below a rice patty.
He thought, next time he comes into my club, I'll
just be like, what do I owe you? As you
might imagine, Melissa wasn't having this. She was like, you're
an idiot. We're getting the fuck out of here, or

(41:04):
at least that's how I imagine it went down.

Speaker 5 (41:07):
We really we differ on this subject. We still do.
We'll still fight about it. You made us leave. We
could have had the greatest life ever in Bali, And
I'm like, dude, what the like we were about to
He was being kidnapped by the Banjar, which is like
the Balinese mafia, and he's making all this money and

(41:28):
you have to pay the Banjar their percentage. Like every
expat that has a company there knows that. He just
thought he was always above the law or above that
kind of authority or that kind of thing. So he
didn't and he made a lot of enemies there. Other
promoters did not like him or appreciate him whatsoever. Damon

(41:50):
would promote at their clubs for his club, and like
he had some people that did not care for him.

Speaker 2 (41:57):
But even before the whole kidnapping threat debacle, Melissa was
feeling like it was time to leave. It had been
years and she missed home.

Speaker 5 (42:07):
My girls were growing up not knowing their family. We
couldn't afford to, like all four of us fly back
to la once a year or twice a year to
see everyone.

Speaker 3 (42:16):
Way too expensive.

Speaker 5 (42:17):
They weren't like trekking halfway across the world to come
see us.

Speaker 3 (42:20):
You know.

Speaker 5 (42:21):
So it was like sad, I felt lonely, and I
just felt like, this isn't my home, This isn't my
place where I'm going to rebuild my life and raise
my kids.

Speaker 1 (42:31):
I think she didn't like Bali like I did. Balie's
not an upper class white picket friends experience. It's a
very spiritual place. There was a lot of yoga, there
was a lot of meditation, there was a lot of
incense being burned. There was a lot of spirituality. And
we both got off on that. But I think that
she wanted to get back to Beverly Hill, you know,
she wanted to get back to the United States, and
I kind of was like, I don't want to go

(42:52):
back and be broke. I don't want to go back
and try to start from square zero again.

Speaker 2 (42:59):
Melissa won the fight back to square zero. It's now
twenty thirteen. As we talked about in our first episode,
they leave Bali and they move back to la and
they have to face their million dollar debt. They declare bankruptcy.
They move in with Melissa's mother into her kitchen to
be exact, and a handful of months later, Damon creates

(43:21):
Sanctum from rags to riches and back again, rinse and repeat,
an EKG machine of success and misfortune, of incredible luck
and then squandering it all. This is pretty much the
cycle of Damon's life. The reverberations of trauma are likely
to inform who we become as adults, for better and

(43:44):
for worse. Like none of us have a full handle
on our emotional baggage, right, Damon included. So I asked him,
how did all of this, the highs and the lows,
lead him to founding one of the most exclusive and
controversial sex clubs in the history of sex clubs.

Speaker 1 (44:06):
It was a childlike experience for me in the beginning.
Sexuality in some ways for me has always been like
this childlike experience, this experience of like discovery and amazement
and like wow.

Speaker 3 (44:18):
And in some ways that stayed with me.

Speaker 1 (44:20):
So you know, somehow I'm not a therapist, but must
have somehow manifested over time into this thing where I
don't know it just loved sex. I love the feeling.
There's nothing okay about what happened to me. But somehow
I think I did take that. It didn't like destroy me.
It ended up in some strange way, kind of like

(44:43):
part of the tools in my toolbox that I used
to create the sex club.

Speaker 2 (44:48):
Next on Sanctum Unmasked, some of.

Speaker 5 (44:50):
The high rollers they were assured of being rolled. You know,
nobody ever comes out and says, you know, what, are
you gonna pay me?

Speaker 3 (44:59):
It's much more subtle than that.

Speaker 1 (45:01):
This gets into the realm of sex work, morality, what's
okay and what's not okay.

Speaker 2 (45:07):
It also reminds me of why wealthy people will always
be able to get what they want.

Speaker 3 (45:12):
If the clientele was poor, I'd say they'd get rated.

Speaker 2 (45:16):
Sanctum Unmasked is a production of School of Humans and
iHeart Podcasts, hosted and written by me Carly Shortino. Etaly's
Perez is our lead producer and story editor. Amelia Brock
is our senior producer. Sound design, scoring and mixing by
George Hicks. Original music composed by Jesse Niswanger. Back checking

(45:37):
by Austin Thompson. Local illustration by Linda McNeil. Graham Gibson
is our recording engineer, recorded at iHeart Studios in Los Angeles, California.
Executive producers are Nick Stump, Jason English, Virginia Prescott, Brandon Barr,
Elsie Crowley, and me Carly Shortino. If you are enjoying

(45:58):
the show, help us get the word out by leaving
a rating in your favorite podcast app. You can keep
up with Damon on Instagram. He's at Father Damon. Tune
in next week
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