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.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons