I have more than a few annoying neuroses, but fighting for most obnoxious is my need to get to places early. It's rooted in insecurity: I know I'm a total geek and can't compete with successful, attractive people, so I make sure I don't have to. I get to clubs right after the janitor has left with mop in hand, around the same time the DJ walks in. Sure, it's dull for a few hours, but instead of the doorman saying, "I'm sorry, but we're really full right now," he's all, "Yeah, c'mon in. A bartender should turn up in an hour or two."
Chris and I settled into the best banquette and played with our phones until other people started showing up. We'd never been to the club before, so we watched for a few minutes to get a handle on the crowd. After the first few couples entered, we noticed a pattern. Young, beautiful, well-dressed woman ... with old, unattractive, out-of-shape man. They came in by the dozens, varying only in ethnicity and with some ladies towering two feet over their partners instead of the average one-foot-eight. The men unbuttoned the waistbands of their Armani trousers before sitting down, spreading their arms across the banquettes and surveying the landscape. "There sure are some hot chicks here tonight," they exclaimed, to which their partners replied, "There sure are! Be back in a minute!" before kissing the air around them and fleeing to party with their doppelgängers next to the dance floor.
After the women burned off their initial energy, one of them noticed us in the way you'd spot a diamond earring on the ground. First it catches your eye in passing, then you give it a longer "What is that?" look. Finally it registers in the brain and you decide to investigate. She strode over confidently, like this wasn't her first trek down the catwalk, before plopping down on the sofa next to Chris.
"Hi, my name's Watson," she said. "Why aren't you dudes partying with us ladies?"
"We're gay," Chris blurted out. He might have been a little tipsy. Do the math and you'll notice another drawback to getting to clubs early: one drink every half hour and arriving at opening means that when the first female checks her Balmain wrap Chris and I are on the dance floor with our shirts off grinding against potted plants.
"You're GAY?" Watson yelled. "WOOHOO! Let's just check this out for sure!" She jumped onto Chris' crotch and started riding him like an Appaloosa, hanging onto his lapel with one hand and flailing the other around her head for counterbalance. We were, of course, reasonably startled, but from the lack of attention the act was attracting we realized that nobody cared if a beautiful young woman mistook a tony club for a Hogs n' Heifers or a tiny Englishman for a mechanical bull. In this case, however, there was less a chance of the rider being thrown than of the bull sliding out of his pants and running screaming into the night.
This is when it all slipped into slow-motion: Watson was riding Chris like a bronco, and he was staring at her in horror and trying to back away. Even if his crotch couldn't disengage contact, it's like the top half of his body thought it could regain some decorum if it were at a reasonable distance. Unfortunately, on top of the banquette was a harmless-looking candle, flickering quietly in its clear glass jar and giving off a vanilla scent. Chris, on the other hand, was wearing a Harrington jacket, which is a retro style from the 1970s that allegedly says rock and roll in England but because it's 100% polyester says to Americans, "Come see the softer side of Sears." As he slid back, his collar stretched across the candle, and slowly it started to brown and shrivel until it crinkled like a potato chip. Rather than being one of those "WHOMF!" fires fed by dried Christmas trees or gasoline it was like the fire wasn't sure it was wanted to move on, but did, you know, just because it was already there and might as well explore.
I'd been watching the whole scenario so I caught on pretty quick. Chris, apparently, had gotten clued in by the warmth. Our hands flew to his neck pretty much simultaneously, patting out the red sparks while trying to keep the molten fabric from touching and perhaps permanently adhering to his neck. Watson remained oblivious, caught up in her midnight ride, like there were still a few British settlers who hadn't woken up. As an odd scent circled the club every expression turned quizzical. Watson slowed. Her eyes glanced anxiously around the room before they settled on us. "Do you guys smell smoke?" she asked, finally climbing off her mount.
"It's all you, baby," Chris purred. "You could set cement on fire."
Watson laughed and I rolled my eyes. Chris and I looked at each other and knew that was it for the night. We'd found an adventure. That's what you look for when you go out in New York. Sure, maybe with other people it was dangerous music, or dangerous drugs, or dangerous strangers, but Chris and I were timid types who derived enough excitement from things like inertia and gravity. Chris rolled up his coat, burying the burnt collar inside, and we stood up to go.
Watson's face fell but she leapt up to hug us. "Let's do this again!" she cried, pulling out a business card that had her name and number on it and absolutely nothing else. Looking back, I almost wish we'd called her. She was fearless and exciting and maybe a little tweaked, but we were young and dumb and only had so many clothes.