The dance floor at Hot Pink squirms like an orgy with clothes: Women and men, women and women, men and men and a number of more complicated combinations gyrate together -- humping, grasping, petting each other to the cyberpunk snarl of Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself."
Blue and red lights pulsate, illuminating ecstatic mugs. Weird tables with no legs hang from the ceiling at Boom, 1724 East McDowell, which morphs into HP on Friday nights. Most prominent in the place is a platform with a stripper's pole up the middle. Right now, it's holding five or six gals fused into one thrusting, perspiration-drenched organism.
"This is better than porno," I tell Jett, who's in full "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" mode this evening. "Is everyone here on E?"
"Nah, not everyone. It's 'cause the drinks are $2." We lean on the faux-stone bar, scoping the crowd, two connoisseurs of sin. DJ Allie Cat drops some Peaches, and the Fellowship of the Pole disentangles itself. Folks abandon the dance floor, kicking empty beer bottles on their way out.
"People seem to groove harder to the old school than the electroclash," I yell into Jett's ear.
"Yeah, I think for some of 'em, it's almost nostalgia music," my lipstick lesbo pal replies.
Devotees of electroclash say the movement is a riff off old school, but I think Jett's more on target. Once you hit your 20s, you always long for what was poppin' in your single digits, whether it was Smurfs, Ms. Pac-Man or leg warmers. Electro-cash is stackin' some cheddar based on that concept. For the moment, at least.
"Hey, Kreme, check this guy out," says Jett. Before us is this white Urkel-lookin' dood, dancing as Mr. Idol ordered, sucking on a vodka tonic the size of a Big Gulp. Sporting gray cargo pants, tennis shoes and short spiked hair, he gives the name Mike: thirtysomething hair stylist and would-be Lothario whose lower lip is pierced.
"What about the tongue?" inquires Jett. The gal gets all serious when it comes to piercings, like her very existence depends on where they put the frickin' holes.
"My tongue works well enough," he brags. "I don't need any help."
"Why are you here tonight?" I ask.
"Cheap drinks," he says, smirking. "And cheap girls."
I hear Adam Ant singing, "You don't drink, don't smoke, what do you do?"
I gesture to his arm. "The jelly bracelets mean anything?"
"Girls give 'em to me," he says, smiling. "They must like what I do."
Uh-oh, the Ladies' Man. No wonder he's not on Saturday Night Live anymore. He moved to Phoenix, painted himself white and shrunk to five-two.
"And the one around your neck?"
He laughs. "That's what I choke girls with."
"Hook up a lot here, do you?"
Beaming, he boasts, "I'd say I make out a little bit." Jett's standing behind him, holding up two fingers an inch apart.
"Not afraid of Hepatitis C?"
"I have lots of bags in my car. I wear one when I take a girl home."
"Any advice for approaching the opposite sex, Casanova?" I ask.
"I just use my moves." He does a little Ed Grimley dance for us. "Don't use lines. Just dance and say, 'Hi.' Girls don't like lines."
Still behind him, Jett's holding up those two fingers again, in case I missed her size hypothesis, and she's gagging herself with the index finger of her other hand this time.
Enough of Elijah Wood. Jett and I do a walkabout; Duran Duran plays in the background. We step into a better-lighted bar out front, where the bartenders wear CBGB shirts tight enough to show off their pecs. TV screens on either end have some MTV-style cartoon on.
"You'd think they'd have on something dope from the '80s: The Hunger, Repo Man, Scarface. Episodes of The A-Team would be cool -- Pity the fool!"
"It's more '80s-inspired," chimes Jett.
"If someone offered me some blow, I'd feel better about this."
"We'd all feel better if that happened, yo," Jett says.
I acquire a refill of my Absolut rocks, and we step to the patio, an L-shaped concrete playground surrounded by tall wooden fencing.
The first guy I see is enjoying a vodka-Red Bull with his buds. Aside from the occasional Mohawk, the crowd in this club looks more dressed down than dressed up: Converse sneaks and jeans, instead of '80s-style Cyndi Lauper-esque skirts or MC Hammer threads. But the vodka-Red Bull guy, who turns out to be Jim Louvau, 26, is at least dressed differently. He's rockin' black trip pants and black shoes with white stars and a Mormon missionary shirt (white and short-sleeved with skinny tie). His hair is bleached, shaved in the back like Vanilla Ice, with long bangs. Ears are pierced so wide you could stick a cigar in each hole.
"This club reminds me of the old Atomic Cafe," offers Jim. "Hasn't been a club around like that since it closed down."
Jett swoons whenever Atomic Cafe's mentioned. A post-goth paradise lost.
"I work at Hot Topic, the one at the PV Mall, but I didn't get my clothes from there," he adds proudly.
"You're 26 and you work at Hot Topic?"
"I'm a musician mostly," he assures. "I sing in a band called Silence of Sound. Used to sing in a band called Victims of Ecstasy. Heavy rock with sequencing. You know, programming, little extra layers of stuff we record in the studio and bring to the live show."
Victims of Ecstasy. Like Michael Jackson's accusers. The love that dare not speak its name in open court.
Heleit Hackett, 21, introduces herself, slurping a vodka-cranberry, slurring her consonants. Tomboyish with short two-toned hair, she explains her name is Israeli and means "halo." She's a fallen angel, natch. Comes to Hot Pink for the music.
"It's just something I can dance to," she replies. "And I don't have to worry about hip-hop guys rubbing up against me. I totally love '80s pop and New Wave. And electroclash stuff like Dirty Sanchez."
Heleit's pre-med at Arizona State University. "I'm the future of America," she tells me. "I'm going to make a lot of money someday."
"Out to save mankind, eh?"
She looks puzzled. "Have another drink, Heleit, the world's your oyster."
As she staggers off, a transvestite the size of a defensive tackle passes us. Now here's someone I want to talk to. Jett and I follow her to the women's room where he disappears inside.
Jett slithers into the jam-packed chicks' baño in hot pursuit. I swallow a mouthful of Absolut, turn around abruptly and almost run over Kristen Wright and her pal Ian Walden, both 23. Kristen is heavily tatted, with Japanese flowers and snakes up one arm and a large heart on her back. Has on a beige tube-top thingy, showing plenty of skin.
After she gets over the shock of almost getting flattened by a fat man the size of a Coke machine, she says, "I made this, actually. It used to be a slip."
Looks like a tablecloth. "This your boyfriend?" I inquire about Ian.
"No, uh, yes."
"Here's an easier question: This is supposed to be an '80s-inspired club. Is that why you come?"
"Well, the '80s were fucking awesome! If I had my way, I'd be a teenager in the '80s. A Madonna clone."
Jesus, I hate Madonna, no matter what the decade. Gap-toothed, talentless bizz-atch. Gets uglier with each passing year. Wouldn't fuck her with Jett's strap-on. "Tell me, if you guys dig the '80s, why aren't you dressed more, well, '80s-style?"
"Whadaya mean?" asks denim-clad Ian, Mr. Pugnacious. "I'm totally '80s. Check out the tee shirt." He opens his jacket to reveal Huey Lewis and the News.
"Huey Lewis, huh?"
"The heart of rock 'n' roll is still beating," he says. "They're my favorite band."
"My heart goes out to you," I say, "it really does."
Jett returns, empty-handed. "I lost her."
"You lost her? She could've passed for Warren Sapp in makeup! How'd you lose that?"
"She got past me, what can I say?"
"Never send a lesbian to do a man's job."
"Or do a man," she cracks. "Hey, look who's here."
"It's the Nordic princess of the pole!" I declare. Earlier, Jett had elbowed me in the ribs so I wouldn't miss this babe in action.
Turns out she's Christine Kastensmith, 24. A Lisa Kudrow look-alike with body art, she's got tats on her chest, up and down one arm, even on her feet.
Christine's a Realtor, and a twin. She and sis Jennifer call themselves The Real Estate Twins. Clever.
The last time I met a beautiful, straight woman in this town, she was a Realtor. Had to promise to let her sell me a house to get her phone number. "You really a twin?" I ask, hoping to avoid a sales pitch.
"Fraternal, but we look enough alike to be identical." At five-eleven and heels, she's hovering over me. I resist the urge to ask if I can go up on her. "I've been here every night since it opened. The crowd is so different. I feel like I can make a total ass out of myself and nobody cares."
I intone sweetly, "You could make a total ass of yourself in a freakin' church, and no one would give a javelina's pattootie."
"I'm not used to the attention. I got really chubby when I was married. But my ex-husband cheated on me. Left me for a 19-year-old girl. So I was like -- fuck it -- success is the best revenge, and I lost 90 pounds."
I ask about the '80s thing. She recalls the decade fondly -- the fashions, the socks with heels, the neon, "and most definitely, the music."
Allie Cat revs up some Blondie, which is okay. But if I hear any Boy George, I'm going to slit my wrists.
"You going to interview me?" asks a voice from the darkness. Mario, a dark-haired boy in a sleeveless black tee shirt inscribed with a tribal-style eagle, introduces himself. Mario's English is sketchy, but he keeps kissing my hand, so what's a big fella to do?
"I sell this on eBay," says Mario, rubbing his chest.
"You sell yourself on eBay?"
"No, the shirt," he twitters. "I am from Mexico. I go to ASU."
"What are you studying?"
"I want to be an ac-tor, so I work on my English."
He looks vaguely familiar. "Were you in Menudo?"
"Nooooo, you silly!"
Allie Cat drops Toni Basil's "Mickey." What's next, Wang Chung?
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"I'm starting to feel nauseous," I tell Jett. "Wish she'd play something better from back then. Some Cars, maybe."
Looking alarmed, Jett scolds, "If you faint, you're on your own. I'd never be able to lift 300 pounds of manly flesh. I'm only a girl."
A girl . . . right. Jett leads me to my car, where, safe inside, I wash out my ears with some Neptunes.