. Jason met us at the club—a frown and a temper cracking his otherwise handsome face—he said he had another party to go to than this, a better one. I thought he was just mad that he had to wait in line for a change.
“It was a 20 a minute walk from the train,” Jason said.
“Relax. This place is perfectly safe,” Bobby Lee said.
“Safe? Safe! We’re about to get patted down.”
Sure enough, we were being led towards a metal detector and a wand pat-down. I felt creeping anxiety attending Latin Night that had nothing to do with running through a metal detector. What if I was expected to look and act a certain way? I wasn’t a thug. Bobby Lee was patted down by a burly black man in a tight black shirt. I was next. Felt like boarding a plane—least that’s what I told myself—truth was it was dehumanizing. Why would gay boys, even latino ones, need to be patted down for weaponry?
“Good thing I left my uzi at home,” Jason said.
Inside the club it was a universe, with glittering chandeliers as stars, and flashing lights as bright as solar flares. The walls were so high up that the ceiling was pitch black. The bar was lit up like a solid glowing cube, changing colors from blue to pink. People were definitely dressed in costume. From what I could tell they were all wearing wide brim hats with stickers (Bobby Lee had done his homework). Nobody inside the club was a thug, they were kids playing dress up. The music blaring throughout was hard hetero stuff like Stronger by Kanye West, and Make Me Better by Ne-Yo, but then it would break with some Lip Gloss by Lil Mama and lots of Rihanna songs—the bodies on the dance floor would dance and grind knowingly to the hard stuff, then everyone would cheer at the breaks in fagotry. The clubbers resembled street toughs, gangsters, but their glittering eyes betrayed their sweetness. In the mix were statuesque drag queens, trans girls, and butch girls who reminded me of my chola friends from school. I felt a whole lot of envy. Where were these people when I was growing up? In Los Angeles I had gone to block parties and cookouts that always carried an edgy anxiety to them, as if they could break out into a war at any moment. You could be killed for wearing the wrong colors, an issue so serious that our schools forbid us from wearing all red or all blue. It was so different here. There were no gangsters, no colors, and the music was better, even if it all was so similar to what I remembered. I went to the bar with Jason to drink and wondered if the difference was between Los Angeles and New York, or between me being sixteen then and twenty-two now, or if it was between me in the closet versus being out.
Bobby Lee changed in the club too. He went from a strangely dressed awkward half-white half-korean douche, to a master of ceremonies. He fit right in and was quickly swarmed on the dance floor. They might have been puerto ricans or cubans, definitely locals to New York, now turned into each other’s fantasies. Bobby Lee was the exotic light skinned creature wearing similar dress, and they were the dark skinned papis each more stunning than Chris Brown.
“That’s so gross,” Jason said, looking at Bobby Lee grinding up against two boys.
“Don’t tell me you’re jealous.”
“I’m not jealous. I just don’t feel comfortable in a place like this. I don’t think we should have different nights for different races. It’s offensive.”
Mr Cut-the-line was out of his element. In white world, everyone knew Jason, and he’d have his pick of the club and free drinks as well. Here? He was a speck. A lonely planet in a cold indifferent galaxy. I was having a great time watching him be miserable.
“You don’t want different nights for different races, but you’re fine with all the clubs having mostly white people in them,” I said, surprising myself at my own tone. I was aiming to be challenging, but I sounded adversarial.
“You like this place? You’ve never come to a party like this have you?” Jason said, calling my bluff. I stared into his big eyes soulful, not because I was paying attention, but because I was falling into them. My God, he was so physically beautiful—furrowed brows, intense eyes, a dimple on his chin, a face cursed with youth and devilishness—I couldn’t help but fall in love with him, but only when I looked into his face, only when he paid me any attention, because otherwise I hated him for how he had lead me on, and how he had almost absentmindedly driven a wedge between Bobby Lee and I during that sensitive time when I was still the new from-out-of-town friend.
“Not exactly no. But I’ve been to an Asian night, and a ginger night once,” I said, choosing to break my stare into Jason’s eyes and into my nearly empty drink.
“Ginger? Don’t make me barf.” Jason laughed. His voice was gentle, disdainful, and dismissive, but also a tiny bit friendly, like the end of every sentence was an inside joke.
A statuesque drag queen dressed in green plumage approached Jason. They struck up a conversation about the space and the drinks. It seemed to me that Jason knew her from the Roxy. Even in a strange land Jason could find a friend and ruin my schadenfreude.
I looked for Bobby Lee in the crowd but could only see the bodies of the kids at the club. I imagined what life would be like had the people in the crowd replaced all the men I had grown up with in LA. Things might have been different. I might have stayed, maybe developed a sense of belonging to something bigger. People talk about that all the time in different ways: love of the old country, duty, patriotism, religion. Whatever it was I wasn’t buying it. I could only be someone who didn’t believe, perpetually, in anything. I needed to go to the bathroom. I snaked my way past the crowds and into a single occupancy room. I peed and spied a pile of toilet paper rolls over the toilet. I grabbed about four rolls and put them in my bag. That was a good half a drink I was saving. When I came back Jason flashed a tiny green piece of paper.
“I got us drink tickets, Mary,” he said.
“How did you manage that?”
“She wants ideas for club promos, and I wanted drinks.”
“So you’re a promoter now?”
Jason raised his eyebrow. “I could be,” he said.