It strikes me as I pause outside the metal door that the throbbing muted pulse of the beat beyond might just match my heart rate. Not that I’m nervous; I’ve been here often enough. Every time I pass the all-night drug store (and unwillingly inhale the hint of menace on the antibacterial breath it oozes onto the sidewalk as its sliding doors swallow and discharge customers), turn the corner and see the fluorescent sign winking at me at the end of the lane, I feel an excitement brew. Halfway along I hear the first indication of the night ahead, a soft and recurrent thump, a rhythmic invitation, and my stride falls into its metrical line with wanton ease.
There are other places to go if I want to cut to the chase, arcane alfresco locations under the darkest of shadows and steamy indoor labyrinths, places where prescient encounters, sometimes wordless but always physically candid, satisfy a common need. But I enjoy a more involved ritual, one not so stripped, sensorial cocktails of beer and music, conviviality and camaraderie. Sometimes it yields a handsome payoff ending back in my apartment a few of blocks away, and sometimes I’m happy to leave just with tinnitus. Tonight, though, I’m angling for the former.
I push through the door and am greeted by the roar of music. Gyrating shapes on the dance floor fizz like champagne bubbles, and to the side clusters of punters engage in blithely conspiratorial banter. Along the far wall by the bar stands a line of men in stoic masculine poises, elbows on ledges and bottles firmly gripped. Full-length mirrors are positioned strategically on columns to facilitate furtive scanning as much as self-regard.
A couple of buddies beckon me to their little group by the dance floor. They embrace me and bellow the names of their friends, which are rendered unintelligible under the thunder of syncopated baselines. I clasp an invisible bottle and jerk it a few times in the gesture of swigging, and everyone politely declines.
I make my way to the bar, acknowledging some other familiar faces en route, and order a Bud. The first gulp is cold and succoring. This is where I prefer to loiter, far enough away from the howling Bose speakers to allow the luxury of conversational interaction and positioned perfectly to afford a tasty prospect of the whole establishment.
I tell the barman to keep the change, and when I spin around I lock, as if inevitably, onto you, casually propped against a mirrored pillar, out from the dark recesses of the back wall and close enough to the dancers to be daubed in disco light. You take a sip of beer and graze languorously on the shifting shapes on the dance floor. A trimmed auburn goatee neatly frames a gentle and cushioned set of lips. Wiry tufts spring through the V of your open-neck shirt, and I trek further south, over your beaming chest and down into the ripe contours of your jeans.
I feel the onset of blush when I look up to discover you’ve clocked me, that moment when the surreptitious becomes the apparent. I wonder if places like this heighten our frequency and make us more alert to the searching, penetrating, predatory sizzle of a man’s gaze. I don’t dwell on the supernatural, but in moments like this, two pairs of eyes in mutual transfixion, loaded and cocked, telepathy seems utterly possible, with tacit actions and words and hopes and desires colliding in a supernova of startling clarity.
You make the first move, sauntering over to me, smiling in shrewd collusion. A popular hi-NRG track announces a shift in tempo and more punters charge onto the dance floor, their rapturous limbs illuminated by kaleidoscopic swathes of light and occasionally punctured by the hectic staccato of strobe. They remind me of a shiver of sharks in an orgiastic feast.
‘You like this crap?’ you ask in a silky baritone timbre, flicking your handsome head in the direction of the dance floor.
I actually adore this particular slice of Europop - Searchin’, it’s called - and I suspect the glorious irony isn’t wasted on you. ‘Can’t stand it,’ I say with a coy moue. I want to add something but am deliciously spellbound by our new physical intimacy.
You put your half-finished Bud down onto the bar. I’ve a case of that in the fridge at home, I remember. ‘Then let’s get outta here,’ you say. ‘Buddy.’
© Timothy Collard 2011