This is not the place for an introvert.
There’s something about kinky folk. They’re like unspoken members of a secret club. They sense each other even in mundane locales like Popeye’s—Taryn met Robbie at a supplement store she’d mistaken for a place to get fried chicken. She liked his Native American tribal tattoos and he gave technique advice to tighten her butt. Robbie has a nice butt. He invited her to a private nightspot in which he claimed rockstar-status. She’d never admit it, but she’d never been to a place quite like this. She invited me as moral support and I figured what the hell, I had no plans anyway.
We approach an unassuming glass door stained with tape residue and what I hope is just a splatter of old cola. We mistake a broken umbrella for a dead bird and I briefly consider stuffing it in my purse. 4Play is scrawled on blue-lined paper and taped above a doorbell, whose large plastic white button is textured with something crusty. Taryn re-applies her lipstick as we wait for the grating buzz that admits us. I open the door. Heavy bass spills into the street, and the cold-oil feel of fog-machine vapor latches to my skin. Before our descent into the underground, I glance at the dead umbrella and wonder if it’ll be hard to catch a cab in this part of town.
At the bottom of the staircase is the pervasive odor of kitty litter, hot ketchup, and a chain-smoking doorman. We crinkle our noses and the doorman passes us off as stuck-up bitches. “The name Taryn ain’t on the list,” he says, scanning her body and sucking on his teeth.
“I’m Robbie’s guest,” she says, peering over his head and clicking her tongue.
He pauses, probably picturing her naked. Taryn was always the one to get attention from the opposite sex. Years ago, as we hurdled through puberty, I watched it warp her ego. Aside from me, Taryn doesn’t keep a lot of friends, but has a reputation for being friendly. She has a love-hate relationship with her sexuality. It gives her power—power she is viscerally in control of yet terrified of exploiting. The attention she attracted, a spell cast by the very nature of her being, didn’t elicit my envy. It was never a competition: I’m a big fan of oversized sweatshirts and neglecting to trim my toenails.
Furry brows furrowed, the doorman admits us on the condition I check my jacket and “smile, sweetheart.” I sink into the scratchy synthetic fuzz of my yeti-fur coat. Hiding beneath it offers little solace in this den of hairless wolves, but I neglect to hang it up. We climb a small mezzanine to survey an unfamiliar pasture. Taryn is looking for Robbie. I know she’s nervous because she’s eating the paint off her bottom lip. This is not a place for introverts. She grips the railing and examines what we’d anticipated to be a Dionysian revelry of curiosity, indulgence, and lust; what we see is human soup.
“I like your butt.”
Obscured by shadow and strobe, hidden behind dark glasses and velvet capes, everyone is having a good time. Though consisting of many colours and textures, within the confines of dancefloor stew, the crowd appears blackish-blue. It ebbs and swells en masse, jitterbugging under the command of George Michael. He melodiously pleads we wake him up before we go-go and indeed, I long to leave. I mumble this to Taryn and she ignores me, swatting the tickle of breath at her ear. Her drive for Robbie overrides my inclination to go home and re-watch The Exorcist with my cats. The fatty-ketchup smell floats in the air like the omnipresent drone of Wham! and I momentarily panic with the idea my nose will be stuck this way forever.
A shiny yellow balloon breaks through the crowd, a shimmering beacon, hovering somewhere by the bar. Written clearly in sharpie, the balloon says, “I like your butt.” Its hairless sheen reminds Taryn of Robbie’s shiny head. And so we’re drawn to it, down from the mezzanine and into the crowd. Taryn grips my wrist and blazes the trail. Bodies of strangers close around me, fisheyes flicking, and I’m thankful for the minute separation beneath the yeti-fur. I order water from the bartender, but she’s busy trying to open a beer with her teeth. There is a parallel in the lines of her jowls and the sag of her glitter-coated breasts, and I’m fascinated until she places the unopened beer on the bar top. She cracks the cap with a lighter and pours it into a glass set between a stack of pickles and a crock-pot of pulled pork. I eventually receive my bottle of water. It’s warm. Twisting the lid, I raise the bottle and take a sip just as the yellow balloon lifts a few brassy hairs from Taryn’s head.
She vaguely recognizes its owner. They went on a Tinder date once. His black bob wig is cheap and sits as crookedly on his head as the mustard skirt on his hips. He has flawless cat-eye liner but shakily-drawn whiskers on his cheeks. Yellow clogs gleam. I wonder about the pronoun-protocol, as it’s doubtful he was dressed this way the first time they met. She bought a pinner from him and never called back, but now they greet each other with the enthusiasm of people who’ve been friends for years. “How do you like my UFO?”
He opens his mouth: there’s a tiny square of paper with a printed yellow cat-face on his tongue. His teeth are yellow too. He reaches into a black-leather satchel and plucks another cat-face between two very fake stiletto fingernails. It’s placed with surgical precision in the middle of Taryn’s tongue, and moments later another is placed on mine; this is fine. After all, it’s impolite to decline a trip to outer space.
Taryn grimaces that way when you have little to say. I request a pronoun-preference. He nods in agreeance to a question he didn’t hear and says something in response that neither I nor Taryn understand. It’s too loud to have a conversation and Taryn’s shoulders heave with relief. “I’ll be right back,” she says. He smiles and nods and the smile disappears as she leads me away.
“It’s true, brain parasites!”
We push through the crowd seeking the playrooms. Perhaps there Taryn will find her Robbie-shaped Dionysus. Plodding along like railroad tracks, we navigate a maze of sin and secondhand IKEA furniture. Patrons lounge about semi-private rooms, walls draped in varying shades of vermillion, chartreuse, and blue. They eat pickles and pork, engaged in idle banter. Some are cuddled in puddles while others are wrestling. We reach the end of the hall and enter through the portico of a great golden temple. A row of Grecian lads and ladies munch from alabaster plates; I hate the sound of Styrofoam but don’t hear its squeal. Goosebumps prickle anyway, pushing through the shrieks of a person in a plastic pig mask. Chained to a park bench, the pig is zapped over and over and over with a purple-electric wand.
“It’s true, brain parasites,” one bystander says to another. “They’re found in cat poop. They make you more outgoing.” He spots Taryn. Heavily tattooed arms pull her in to a hug and she very nearly vanishes by the sheer difference in their size. As they break away Robbie makes eye-contact with me. His face is red and his smile is bluish-white. He invites us to sit on towels laid over a plush velvet chaise. The room is thick with mango lube and heavy breath and something else: the electric pig, perhaps, or freshly-churned kitty litter. I’m sweating, heavily, squirming beneath my yeti-skin as if endowed with anguilliform life. Taryn nestles on the chaise next to Robbie and I perch precariously at the foot.
“I wasn’t sure you’d make it.”
“Wouldn’t miss it.” Taryn pats her curls to ensure they’re in place. “I’ve wanted to see this place for a while.”
“It’s a little intense if you’re not used to it,” Robbie says.
“I’m used to it.”
“Shy people can be perverts too.”
“You sound like my wife.” He’s chuckling. Taryn’s jaw goes tense and the beads of sweat on Robbie’s chest are starting to look rainbow.
Robbie nods and points his chin towards the pig-person, who’s giggling now that someone is nibbling her toes. Taryn shifts on the chaise and I fiddle with the buttons of my coat. The silence is not lost on Robbie. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t intentionally dishonest.” He glances at me then back to Taryn. “We’re happy you’re here. Angela is tickled pink to meet you.” Taryn bounces her leg and crosses her arms. In our first year of college she dumped soda down the pants of a boy who brought her flowers: Taryn hates surprises.
“She looks busy.” The paint on Taryn’s lip is chewed away entirely.
“She does her own thing. When she’s ready, she’ll say hello.” Robbie looks at me and asks if I’m okay. Taryn stands to announce she needs a cigarette, and can she borrow my coat. Taryn doesn’t smoke. I unbutton my yeti-coat just quickly enough for Taryn to snatch it away and exit the room. The air feels twenty degrees cooler and I’m surprised by my relief. Robbie and I watch Angela squirm for a while. “How do you know Taryn?” He asks.
“Group therapy,” I lie.
“Agoraphobes and nymphomaniacs,” I answer truthfully. Robbie laughs and the sound of it softens the bestial undercurrent of the room that until now had made me feel alien. I’d always felt nuts, not romantic. Too bitter to be smooth. I join in his laughter and settle myself more securely on the chaise. “You’re safe here,” Robbie says, wiping away the fractal beads of rainbow pooling on his person. He studies the shapes in my expression and patterns of hesitation and does not make any sudden movements, cautious not to startle me, as if human and temptation or lack thereof had moved for eons through alleys of time with nary a space station to gather one’s composure. “What?” I remember the yellow cat.
“Dance with me.” He stands. His thigh is the same width as my waist. A surge of cat-faced confidence inspires I agree, and as I float from the room Angela in the pig-mask blows me a kiss that crackles purple-electric.
The castle starts spinning, or maybe it’s my brain.
The main room is smaller than before. The floor reminds me of the rug from The Shining, but who puts down carpet in a bar? We secure a space beneath a sparkling disco ball, whose willful glittering promises to beam me up in the event of social or somatic embarrassment. I expect Robbie to close in on my personal bubble and mentally prepare myself for contact. It does not come. He gyrates in his own space, giving me plenty of my own, and though his eyes are closed I feel he is ever-conscious of my body language. As Robbie dances by himself I do my best impression of Cleopatra were she born a T-Rex. Prince sings to me. I move in striations, fumbling and simultaneously rising from my skeleton in leaps and bounds. Joy dribbles down my chin in zigzags of giggles. I am safe here. I caress, dreamily, the languid whorls and purple patterns draped across my vision; the pattern twists and fuses with the vascularity of an Amazonian dancing nearby, oscillating between vulgar and sublime—I guess you could say she was a sex fiend. Robbie’s arms curl around the Amazonian and I realize it’s Angela. At some point she’d shed her pig-mask and joined us. Her Greecian curls bounce when she says hello, and the squares of her smile refract the light in a way that pushes at my spirit with kind, firm tendrils. I place my hands on her hips and sway with her. She purrs beneath my touch. She smells of petrichor and clay. The castle starts spinning, or maybe it’s my brain.
“You have no idea how beautiful you are,” Robbie says to me. I’m very aware of my pulse. Do we secretly idolize our opposites, yearning to be the inspiration for others we know we can never be for ourselves?
This is not the place for an introvert.
A clamor startles me back to planet earth. A crowd gathers at the far end of the bar and I’m driven to investigate. With the promise I’d be right back, I pull away from Angela and rush through the crowd. In the center I find Taryn coiled on the floor with her leg tangled in a stool. Someone hands her a bar rag which she deftly clamps over her mouth. My yeti-fur coat lies dead on the ground—unmoving, untwitching.
“Are you okay?” asks the yellow balloon.
I kneel next to Taryn and she sits up, kicking the stool away. Her eyes glimmer green like the blood sparkles red. She shows off a fragment of tooth between thumb and pointer, eyebrow twitching with a familiar vivacity. She’s fine, but it’s time to go. I pull her to her feet and usher her towards the exit. The doorman says I have a pretty smile. We spill into the street and our ears echo with the cessation of sound. A dead bird on the sidewalk looks like a broken umbrella.
“Forgot your coat,” Taryn says, fumbling with her fricative.
“Fuck the coat!” She gawks at me. I stare back. Her gapped-toothed grin grows wide. Curls of steam rise from the blood on her chin and dissolve into the night air. I laugh at her. She laughs at me. Somehow, we hail a taxi.
This is not the place for an introvert. I like it here.