Ever since blowing into this desiccated town from El Lay's relatively humid climes, a number of fellow lowlifes have told me about a notorious gangbanger club at 2424 East Thomas that even scares the bejesus out of Phoenix SWAT.
Apparently, the nightspot's also the Saturday after-hours hangout for brown-and-black Phoenix. Lord knows, curiosity may one day kill this club columnist. But with my lesbo sidekick Jett in tow, I decided to roll on Incognito.
The club's exterior didn't allay any fears that I'd end the weekend as the winner of the Reginald Denny look-alike contest. That shoebox sweatbox is windowless, gray and bleak -- as unromantic as a dog kennel or a crematorium. Over it hangs a billboard bigger than the building itself, with some cracker asking, "Got Tires?" A nondescript door faces out onto a parking lot the club shares with the "Biltmore Shopping Center," featuring such upstanding merchants as EZ Cash Super Pawn and a discount cigarette center.
Inside, on first blush, it's like that scene in Bulworth where Warren Beatty parties the night away in a South Central L.A. speakeasy.
A Ludacris joint's blastin' on the sound system, and the tiny dance floor is packed with people of color gettin' their freak on. Lots of couples in baggy jumpsuits and saggy white condom hats are busting moves. In the darkness, with Luda yelling, "When I move, you move," the overwhelming impression is of a BET-style hip-hop scene.
After my pupils adjust, well, let's just say even Janet Jackson's spiked titty didn't make my eyes pop like that.
As I ease up on the bar, a pair of black guys who look like Dr. Dre and 50 Cent are swapping spit. A Hispanic dude with his tee shirt pulled back over his head is sippin' gin and juice and watching the action, absent-mindedly squeezing his boyfriend's supple ass. A pair of lumpy lesbians pass by in matching Puma jogging suits and baseball caps, bills cocked to the side. In the back of the room, two cholos with shaved heads, jeans and white tees face off, and for a couple of secs look like they're gonna throw down. Suddenly they clasp each other in a lover's embrace.
"Hay-sus Cristie!" I shriek. "This gangbanger club's full of fa--" Jett slaps a palm over my puss, which I promptly remove. "Why didn't you tell me?!"
"I thought you knew, ya dope," laughs my leather-bound Tonto.
Fortunately, with a dime 'til 1 a.m., Incognito's still taking drink orders. I ask for a couple of double Jacks and Cokes for myself and an Absolut tonic for Jett. The buzz-cut bulldog behind the bar growls when I tell her I want some Jack in my Jack and Coke.
"That bartender reminds me of Sergeant Carter from Gomer Pyle reruns," I shout into Jett's ear, over Lil' Kim's staccato delivery from "Thug Luv."
I glance around at all the security personnel and think better of my manners. The half a dozen strapping bohunks in black gear suggest that some folks in this dive are prone to go toe-to-toe instead of tippy-toe to tippy-toe. But there's no evidence of rowdiness as Jett and I roam through the place.
In fact, though the crowd resembles a casting call for Oz, the first few patrons we encounter treat us with a certain deference. At one point, some fella as tall as DMX bumps into me and pats me on the back, as if to apologize.
"Maybe they reckon I'm a cop," I say to Jett, with a bit of a swagger after DMX steps through. The Lesbian Johnny Depp does a vodka-tonic spit take.
"With those dark glasses, they think you're a pervert who came to score some strange," she says, bursting my bubble.
"You say pervert like it's a bad thing."
Our stroll through Incognito takes about as long as jaywalking Central, even with a crush of bodies that grows thicker as last call approaches. Everybody's trying to slam down as much firewater as possible before the 1 a.m. cutoff.
My nose in some Snoop Doggy Doggette's armpit, I complain to Jett, "Doesn't Phoenix have a fire marshal? This is insane!"
"Yeah, dorkus, this is nothing! After-hours hasn't even started yet. From 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., every horny, gay gangbanging teenager in town's going to be bouncing off the walls in this roach motel."
Indeed, I peer outside and a milelong line of young black and brown flesh is beginning to snake into the club. It takes about 20 minutes before the building's bulging like R. Kelly's britches.
The DJ drops Murphy Lee's "What da Hook Gon Be?" and everyone gets extra funky. Back near the heads, a hoss the size of Fat Joe and another who's a dead ringer for Biz Markie hold hands, leaning against a wall.
Not that there's anything wrong with two hulks the size of Hummers -- who could each beat me black and blue with one hand while beating their meat with the other -- doing anything they damn well please.
At the pool table, a butch chick with a face like a young Al Pacino's banks a shot. She yells and does a victory dance. Her opponent, a dude in a long Raiders football jersey with a pockmarked mug and a grill full of silver, isn't pleased. For a moment, his hand lightly touches a shape in his waistband that looks suspiciously like a gat. But the moment passes, and he picks up his cue and continues the game.
"All tops, no bottoms," I exclaim to Jett. Everyone's masculine -- male and female.
"To the untrained eye," she tells me. "It's too loud. Let's go outside."
The parking lot is like a block party. Clusters of men and women stand about. Past them, near the adjacent storefronts, homies squat in front of open lowriders talking to their hook-ups. Could be someone's dealing tonight, though I don't see what changes hands. A police cruiser rolls by, but the esses are unperturbed. The cop car keeps rolling.
We strike up a conversation with Scrub, a muscular Hispanic with a blank expression, bling-bling around his neck, and a plaid shirt, white undershirt peeking through. I weigh in at 300 pounds, but Scrub looks like he could use me as his own personal sock puppet. Scrub's in a good mood tonight, though. He's happy to give us the 411 on Incognito. Explains he's been coming here for 10 years.
"People tell me this is a gay gangbanger club," I say. "Is there gang activity in here?"
"No, no. Just one faggot fighting over the other. Or one dyke fighting the other one."
"Is that why all the security?"
"That's because Lynn is one of the hardest owners in town," he says, pokerfaced. "She knows her shit." He points her out as she's now checking IDs at the door. Fuck, it's Sergeant Carter!
"She'll come down on people?" I say, gulping.
"Real hard. People get banned. Never to be welcome back again. But I never do anything bad," he says, grinning. "I'm always good."
A twinge of irony in my voice, I remark, "Can't see you breaking the law."
Jett elbows me in the kidney. Hard.
I gasp, "What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a floral designer for special occasions," he says, suddenly twittering. "I do weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs. Wedding parties are the biggest, I guess."
Eyebrow cocked at Jett, I say, "Funny, I wouldn't have picked you for a florist."
Nervously, Jett chimes in, "What kind of flowers do you use?"
"Silk flowers," he gushes. "I do fresh, too, but people ask for the silk, because they last longer and keep throughout the year."
"So," Jett continues. "Uh, what do you look for in a, uh, guy?"
"A little bit masculine. I like Chicano, black, white. I'm not prejudicial. But I don't meet anyone here. The clientele is too young. I'm looking for someone who's stable. And no uglies."
It must be hard for Scrub here, since, judging from tonight's clientele, Incognito's the ugly capital of Phoenix.
After Scrub, we run into Nancy, 24, a Laotian-American who's on the prowl.
"I'm here to check out the girls," says Nancy, in red Lacoste golf shirt and white cloth cap. "I like 'em femmy. Femmy, tall and skinny."
Boy, are you in the wrong place, honey.
"So, where do you make your millions?"
"Millions, that's a laugh. I work at the gay Costco, 44th Street and Oak."
"There's a gay Costco?!" I ask.
"Sure is. My managers are gay, my co-workers are gay and I'm gay. They're as gay as can be," she says.
"Do people get discounts on booty there?"
"Maybe," she says, grinning. "A lot of gay guys shop there. And gay girls."
Jett's got a "date" waiting at home, so we move on to the jailbait lingering about. It seems most everybody's from Chavez High, which several folks tell us is P-town's gay high school. First a gay Costco, now a gay high school. What's next, a gay governor?
One of the squirts, a 16-year-old Spanish street princess by the name of Jessica, is especially proud of the fact that she's picked up bitches as old as 30.
"I tell them how old I am," she says. "My last relationship was two years. She was 21 when we met."
Wild, wacky stuff.
Jett gives me a wedgie. She's really impatient to go now. But I spy a fellow I've just got to talk to.
Carlos, 25, is dressed in baggy jeans with a long wallet-chain -- zoot suit-style. The tongues are hanging out of his brogans, and his chapeau is worn to the side. He's got a mustache and goatee, pierced ears and thumb rings. If you didn't know better, you'd think he'd been an extra in American Me.
Turns out, he's a dancer. Figures. He says he's moving to L.A. because "that's where dancers go."
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Trying to be helpful, I offer, "I hear most dancers go to West Hollywood." I stare to see if he gets it that WeHo is gay L.A.
Caught up in his dream, he doesn't even hear me. "I know I've got something, and I'm working on it. I want it so bad. I've got to do it."
Someone cue the theme for Fame.
I wish Carlos luck, bid Incognito and Jett adieu, and head out in search of the gay Krispy Kreme.