Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Club Kids

Brian Schwartz headshot by Brian Schwartz

Somehow I got sucked into the New York night club scene. It was 1986. Studio 54 had come and gone, replaced by the new best thing, and that new best scene was long gone and forgotten too. "New York nightlife is dead" said the Village Voice, and indeed the scene inside the New York nightclubs, once you got past the crowds outside and the velvet ropes, was stale and moribund, with once-glamourous and rapidly aging fops gamely doing their best to strike fashionable poses. And still I went, night after night. Perhaps it was those crowds outside. To stand there, bobbing in a sweaty mob of a thousand, and then the doorman points, points at you, and the crowds part like the Red Sea and you swagger through and past the velvet rope which has miraculously been opened -- it was the biggest high I ever had.

One night they had a poetry contest. People got up and read pretty verses, as the audience listened and did their best to feign rapt attention. Everyone wearing black, of course, that was the thing then, everyone always in black, like a never-ending funeral, and suddenly there were people in the back, kids really, in blazing rainbow colors. And then they bounded up, one by one, and read their poetry, and it was nothing but swear words and porno phrases. It was like a scene from St Petersburg, 1917, decadent aristos in evening dress gape in horror as the palace gates open and the ragged, rabid mob rushes in. That was the first time I saw the club kids.

Well they were kids, and to start with they were outsiders. Michael Alig, who when I first saw him was dressed in nothing but a bright white diaper and a satin ribbon, came from some little town in Indiana. A bunch of newborn drag queens fled their home in staid Atlanta, loaded up a van and headed for New York. One of them was about eight feet tall and looked like a dusky Barbarella, and for some reason he took the name Ru-Paul. Now the sleekest club in the city had a basement that looked like a rathole, and these kids took it over, and made it a VIP room, and made it their home. It was hard to get in, basically a clubhouse, but I knew the guy who worked the ropes to the basement on Wednesday. Every Wednesday they had this thing called "Celebrity Club", and it was the cheesiest thing they could come up with. Wet T-shirt contests, food fights, sometimes the basement was a foot deep in water after one of these events. And you know what? It was FUN! A whole lot of fun, and after years of wearing black, striking poses, poetry contests, it was giddy, drunken liberation. The Allies had come marching in, the Berlin Wall had fallen.

I was an outsider among all those outsiders. Still, I had some wild times. Giddy rushing nights that seemed like they'd never end. And then I met a girl and started dating and without even meaning to I left the club kid scene. By that time the party was over. Club kids grew up, got jobs, moved away. I once saw the It Twins, who were not really twins but lovers who used to wear swirling spangled matching outfits, a new one each time, and now they had crewcuts and business clothes and were working in Barnes and Noble. Don't tell anyone you saw us here, they said.

I wish I could go back somehow, recapture the roaring elusive youth that somehow slipped away. There's one night, one of all the purple velvet nights that sticks in my mind. Michael Alig liked to give secret parties, outlaw parties, where he'd spread the word and suddenly a thousand kids would swarm in to the most unlikely places. A Burger King at 3 AM, a deserted subway station. There was a long abandoned elevated rail line that snaked thirty feet above the ground through the bleak ghostly factories of the lower west side. One night they cut the gates to a stairway, and up we all climbed. Twenty feet above, the railing ended, it was nothing but rickety stairs, scary, and then at the top of the stairs a five foot gap. They'd thrown a wobbly plank across and you had to walk across it. And then there was a grassy abandoned track, a secret world far above the city, a thousand kids dancing with the million points of light that is the New York skyline twinkling like a galaxy all around them. I got to thinking of the climb down, and I got scared and left early. But a little bit of me believes the party is still going on. Like Wendy Darling, who after all left her true love Peter Pan and got married and had children of her own, I firmly believe in that Neverland, above the clouds and beyond the stars, where all that joy would wash over me again like a benediction, if only I knew the way home.

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