"It's just not the same," says Jersey Mike, as I ride with him toward Scottsdale in his '96 Thunderbird, which used to be a '96 Lincoln Mark VIII until he trashed it after a fight with his girlfriend. "It's lost its elite edge."
"Huh?" I ask my pal from Exit 162, who is wearing a nice black sports coat, and looks like a tall Denis Leary with brown hair.
"The girl at the club," Jersey Mike explains. "She was talking about Scottsdale, and she thinks it's just gotten, you know, not elite."
I tell him I have no clue what he's talking about, and that I've never been out to a club in Scottsdale, but that I have heard people at the Emerald Lounge refer to it as "Snottsdale."
"That's not fair," says Jersey Mike. "There are plenty of nice people there. Especially the ones I work with."
"Work with?" I ask, forgetting our phone conversation a few hours earlier. It must have been the wine. Or the Jose Cuervo. Or maybe the painkillers for my intestines. But most likely it was my A.D.D.
So, as we make our way down Indian School Road to check out what they call "The Scottsdale Club Scene," Mike again explains to me that he is the official photographer for Eventvibe, some Web site and club promotions thing I never heard of. He explains that his job is to take pictures of couples and women all night. Especially beautiful women. And especially go-go dancers.
"How'd you land a fuckin' great gig like that?" I ask my pal.
He explains that he took some pictures, showed them to a guy named Jay who seems to run the whole shebang, and now he's in like a tampon.
I think about Jersey Mike for a second. Here was this Jersey dude with an attitude, who arrived in Phoenix via the Chicago area, and knew more about the punk rock than anyone. Well, except for me.
And he's got this great job.
Taking photos of half-dressed women.
Hot half-dressed women.
I feel my stretch jeans start to get hard so I quickly ask Jersey Mike why he's even a photographer to begin with.
He explains to me that he one day hopes to be a great filmmaker, and he's doing this for now. Like his dad does. Mike does take good pictures. Great ones, in fact. His framing is brilliant, and he really knows how to use lighting. He's a regular Stanley Kubrick. For real.
We arrive at a club called Myst, and when I see the flames poking out of the top of the place like a Mötley Crüe video, the first thing I expect is hot chicks in fishnets telling me I've got the looks that kill.
No such luck.
When I ask Jersey Mike why they call it Myst, he tells me about the fog machines. And I thought it had to do with a video game.
We make our way inside, and the first thing I notice is that the door guy and all the bouncers look like the Baldwin brothers. Some more handsome, some more rugged. They are all quite polite, but underneath, I can tell they are ready to hit me like any other paparazzo. It's a good thing Mike has a press-badge thingy.
Inside the club, I'm surprised to see it's quite tiny. Only the size of a Wal-Mart or an airport hangar. Gee, I guess space is pretty tight out here in Arizona, huh?
We make our way around the club, and Jersey Mike shows me attractions like the VIP rooms, which they call "skyboxes." I look inside these rooms and wonder if all the sex that happens on the Internet on those "VIP" sites happens right here. Looking around at the talent in the club, I decide it does. But of course I'd never get any. I don't look like the rest of the guys in the club.
The rest of the guys in the club.
Them, I can't get over. On the way to Scottsdale, I was thinking they'd all look like Richie, Potsie, and Ralph Malph, only in penny loafers and silk jackets.
Boy, was I wrong.
They all look like tough guys from a mob film. Almost everyone seems to have dyed black hair, wears cowboy boots, and looks like Tony Manero rejects from Saturday Night Fever. And the gold chains. They're actually wearing gold chains around their necks. I begin to feel myself do the Time Warp, and the next thing I know, it's 1977.
Not only that, there are the girls. Some of them are wearing their hair feathered back like Farrah Fawcett-Majors. And other Barbie-doll-looking girls are drop-dead imitations of Heather Locklear and Linda Evans.
It's then I realize I'm in hell. And I had no idea it was so close to where I live.
Jersey Mike also shows me what he calls "The Asian Room," a huge space in the club where mostly Asians hang out. He says they either hang out there or in the brilliant billiards room.
Just like New York.
Speaking of the pool room, that's where I meet Jersey Mike's boss, Jay, who looks just like you'd expect a guy to look who runs a club that's pretty much the Bada Bing! on a huge scale.
He looks like Tony Soprano. Big guy, with a very likable face. And when he talks, you'd swear he was from New Jersey and in the sanitation-removal business. Turns out he's from Nebraska. And his little partner/gofer, who is really sweet, is named Tyler. He's like Jay's Christopher. You just know one day he's gonna blow it by shooting himself in the foot or something. Yet you wouldn't blame the guy -- he's too nice.
The same goes for the rest of the crew at the club. Even the go-go dancers are charming, and I can't help but stare at their perfectly shaped bottoms protruding from their tiny pairs of underwear.
Jersey Mike and I spend a few hours in the club, and at one nearby, and I actually do have a good time. I run into Jay, Jersey Mike's boss, a few more times, and I really start to like the guy. He hires good talent, and "gets it."
I also begin to not get very jealous of Jersey Mike at all. By now, he's taken hundreds of pictures of half-dressed women, and they all smile when they see the camera and look all sexy and stuff, but after the flash goes off, they go back to being stuck-up prima donnas. They treat Mike like a second-class citizen, and it's quite obvious they only see him as a tool to be more successful in whatever bizarre dating ritual they are taking part in. Boob after boob, butt after butt, virgin after vagina, Mike snaps it all, and frankly, I get bored.
At first it's stimulating, and even erotic. After the freshness wears off -- like in 15 minutes -- it's work. And Mike's good at it. In fact, the best I've ever seen. If I were him, I'd be hitting those chicks with the heavy camera for being so fucking dense at times. But that's just me.
The night ends when I'm upstairs in the VIP area and some guy with spiky black hair and a gold chain around his neck hurls an insult at me. I tell him to repeat what he says, and he does, then asks if I want to fight. And truthfully, after seeing a night full of that much pussy with absolutely no relief in sight, I'm ready to fucking take this guy's head off. My testosterone is through the top of my skull.
As I'm about to start swinging, I look at Jersey Mike, and realize I don't want to fuck up his job, never mind start a bar brawl with 100 John Travoltas. I'd be singing "Stayin' Alive" all the way to the hospital.
So I ask the bully where he's from.
"From here," is all he can say.
"And you got an attitude like that from being from here?" I ask, in amazement.
"Yeah," says Rocky Bologna.
I stick out my hand and shake his, then say, "I'm from New York City. I like your attitude!"
At first he looks like he's in shock, as you can see all the boulders shifting around in his head. Then his eyes light up, and he thanks me.
As we make our way out, he keeps following us, giving me the thumbs up signal and shaking my hand.
"I got attitude," he keeps saying.
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On the way home, I tell Jersey Mike I don't envy him. While I consider him to be as talented as the guy who made The Shining, 2001, and the movie with a naked Nicole Kidman in it, I don't know how he puts up with it.
He tells me that this is some people's way of having fun, and what's wrong with that? It's something he or I wouldn't do, but if that's what makes these people happy, more power to them. They're weekend warriors, he explains, and this is how they blow off steam.
I think about how I play the punk rock to do the same thing, and finally begin to understand. Understand that sometimes my vision is Eyes Wide Shit.