The area of the brain that makes us want to mate keeps functioning, no matter how much we drink, meaning that people can still assess how visually-appealing others are, says Dr. Amanda Ellison.
“We still see others basically as they are,” she said. “There is no imagined physical transformation – just more desire.”
“…alcohol switches off the rational and decision making areas of the brain while leaving the areas to do with sexual desire relatively intact, and so this explains beer goggles.”
Chico Rock’s wild tour of Madrid continued for the remainder of my study abroad stay. Every Friday night, I would climb across to his room through his balcony, and we would pregame in his room before heading down to Chueca to explore yet another gay bar or club. Or several.
Unbeknownst to me before deciding to study for a semester in the Spanish capital, Madrid is well-known around Europe for its gay quarter. Despite being an overwhelmingly Catholic country, gay marriage is completely legal in Spain. Gay lifestyle and culture is prominent, sometimes preposterous.
Named after the Spanish word for “crooked” (or “not straight”) centuries before Stonewall, Chueca has been through more transformations than a desperate pop star trying to cling on to relevancy. All up until the 20th century, Chueca housed the city’s outcasts—criminals, freaks and other social pariahs, certainly homosexuals and sexual deviants. After the authoritarian dictatorship of Francisco Franco ended with his death in 1975 the area became one of the epicenters of La Movida, a liberation of creative expression, disregard for traditional aesthetics and a new breed of popular culture. The equivalent of New Wave but with far more transsexuals and recreational drug use. I once heard that during the mid-80s you could swipe your finger through one of the sidewalk creases in Chueca and accumulate small residues of a certain white powder, just enough for a bump. The streets were literally littered with cocaine. Then came the 90s. Chueca got chic with designers like Diesel and Custo Barcelona opening up boutiques in the now quaint but quirky neighborhood. And today, the quarter is home to more yuppies and young couples than criminals. I’m pretty sure that if Pinkberry ever made it to the European continent, the first location in Madrid would be in Chueca.
But after dark if you turn the right (or wrong) corner, you can travel back to a reformed version of Chueca’s old days of debauchery, partying until the sun comes up. That’s what Chico Rock wanted me to experience. He was adamant about having me be a part of his outrageous nightlife stunts: sex clubs and dark alleys, unknown substances and after parties. He kept saying how this was how young guys partied in Madrid, every night. He kept pushing me, challenging me almost, to stay out later and keep drinking, or keep flirting with strangers, see how far I could go down the rabbit hole. Nevermind waking up at 3 p.m. the next day, missing all my morning classes, hungover and with blurred memory of the night before.
The thing was: it was just him and his friends engaging in these excessive habits. He just didn’t want to feel like the only one, so he made a big deal about how common and ordinary it was to be so erratic, but deep down he was all alone.
I was madly attracted to him, so I kept playing the game, trying to impress him and turning into the party boy I thought he wanted me to be. I didn’t realize how self-destructive his lifestyle was until one night. November 9, 2006, three weeks before I had to come back to the states. The night I thought I was going to die.
We end our night at Royal Cool, but that’s where the story starts. The largest gay club in Madrid, the club is a neon institution that thrives on the bass thumping loud, men sweating hard and inhibitions plummeting to a new low. This is what it takes to be Cool.
As soon as we walk in, a friend of Chico Rock’s walks up to him and offers him something. I’m guessing it’s either coke or poppers since I see them snorting it. Chico Rock asks him if he knows where he can get more, looking back at me and raising his eyebrows with anticipation. The friend says no. Chico Rock calls him a liar. The friend laughs and says he’s serious. So Chico Rock drops it.
About twenty seconds later, the friend turns back, waits until we both make eye contact with him and then signals us to follow him.
The three of us walk back into a brightly lit room behind the bar. It takes a minute for my eyes to readjust. The friend introduces me to a guy with dreadlocks I recognize from going out. He asks me if I want pills, assuming that I’m the one looking for drugs, that it’s my deal to be made. I look back at Chico Rock. He nods.
“Cuantas?” (How many?)
“Cuantas necesito?” (How many do I need?)
The dealer laughs and tells me they’re five euros each. I tell him to give me one. He leans closer to me as if going in for a hug and puts the pill in my hand. He whispers something in my ear, but I can’t understand it, something about this being on the house. Even behind closed doors, the music from the club resonates.
I open my hand and see that he’s given me two pills. I take one and hand it over to Chico Rock, but he shakes his hands and says, “They’re all yours.”
So I take them both.
I walk out of the room and realize that: I just swallowed not one, but two pills. I just swallowed not one, but two unknown pills. I just swallowed not one, but two unknown pills from a complete stranger. I just swallowed not one, but two unknown pills from a complete stranger at a random club overseas. I just swallowed not one, but two unknown pills from a complete stranger at a random club overseas and really, I’m all alone. I just swallowed not one, but two unknown pills from a complete stranger at a random club overseas and really, I’m all alone and I don’t even have my phone.
Not only do I not know if these pills are laced (certainly they are), but I’m not even exactly sure what I’ve taken.
I ask Chico Rock how many he has taken before and he says something like, “a half,” but he could’ve said, “one and a half.” It’s so loud in the club, and I hate repeating myself. Regardless of his answer, two definitely breaks the “take only half the pill” rule—a rule I’ve tried to ingrain in my head ever since I started going out when I was 16.
So get a little worried, and decide that if I start feeling funky (a.k.a. like I’m about to die), I’m just going to rush to the restroom and vomit the pills out. Who says drugs aren’t glamorous?
The dealer with the dreadlocks told me that he worked at the club. He was an under-the-table drug dealer employed by the very own venue to keep the dance floor busy until the early hours of the morning, to have people come back Saturday after Saturday after Friday after Wednesday, to get them addicted to Cool.
So I’m waiting for the damn pills to hit me, to see what’ll take to control my body’s reaction to them.
20 minutes. Nothing.
I keep imagining me overdosing and being taken to a hospital. The whole university institute there, my mother flying in to see me.
Then all of the sudden, I’m totally calm. I think, “If I’m going to die, I might as well die dancing my heart out, right?”
Then the pills hit me: the music starts to penetrate, the songs expand and the whole ambiance changes—the realization that every one there is exactly on the same drug you’ve just taken.
So I dance and talk and flirt with new friends. My hands start getting really cold and then really hot, and then I start to perspire. Random groups of people are approaching us and talking to us. But to me, these guys are just mannequins, looking for colored pills to bring them back to life.
It’s 7 a.m., Royal Cool is about to close, so I say good bye to my minute friends and head out the front door, grabbing a “come back next time” glossy flyer with a picture of well-toned, blue-tinted torso on my way out.
But it’s on the metro that the pills, these drugs, whatever the fuck I took, really start to hit me. I sit there and just start thinking, and then I get paranoid and wonder if the people riding with me on the train can listen to my thoughts. “Am I saying these things out loud?” I ask myself. Of course not, you idiot. Or wait?
Then I get super nervous. I get off my seat, look around, looking confused. I feel like I’ve been riding th
e metro for hours. Surely I’ve missed my stop. Surely I’m somewhere far, far away past my home stay. The train stops at the next station, and I realize that it’s only the first stop. I’ve been on the train for two minutes.
I sit back down and take a look down at my hands. The glossy flyer I’d been carrying has been twisted and crumbled almost beyond recognition. The toned body now deformed. As soon as I start involuntarily grinding my teeth, the light bulb goes on: Speed!
I swallowed not one, but two speed pills from a complete stranger at a random club overseas and really, I was all alone and I didn’t even have my phone.
I get to my house and realize that Chico Rock has my keys. The light in his room is off; he’s not home yet. I can’t even remember the last time I saw him. It starts to rain, and I start to feel like shit.
But I head back out into the night to try to find him.
To be continued…
I wake up next to Mr. Danger and quickly climb off his bed without making much noise. I go to the restroom, splash cold water on my face and look at the mirror as I mouth the word, “Fuck!” I keep running all the details from last night over and over in my head but yet cannot come to any form of clear conclusion.
I sit on his bed and put on my sneakers. He is still fast asleep, breathing softly and grabbing on to his large pillow by his head. I consider waking him up and letting him know I’m leaving. But, really, what am I supposed to say?
“Oh, thanks for smoking me up, I can’t believe we smoked two bowls. I really liked hanging out with you and watching Cruel Intentions, while we talked nuzzled underneath your sheets. Sarah Michelle Gellar is such a psycho princess in that movie, right? Oh and thanks for suggesting that I should spend the night, even though I was kind of thinking that I should just be heading home when it started getting late and you hinted that you were ready to go to sleep. Oh wait, you didn’t say you were ready to go to sleep, you said you were ready to do something else. What did you have in mind exactly?
Then you turned the lights off and turned your back on me, but a few seconds later began rubbing your butt up against my thigh and caressing my lower leg with your feet. And when I rolled over and started spooning you and running my cold hands up and down your torso, you didn’t flinch away. Instead, you exhaled heavily. And then I started fingering the elastic on your boxer briefs and getting so close down to your crotch. But then I stopped. You noticed I stopped. And I turned over and closed my tired, drunk, stoned, delirious, horny eyes. But then, you rolled over and got so close to me that I could feel your breath on my cheek. And you began poking my hips with your knees. And when I turned my head to look at you, you didn’t look away. So I kissed you, and you kissed me back briefly, softly, before you closed your mouth, recoiled back gently and said, ‘We shouldn’t do this.’
Right, I shouldn’t have kissed you. And you shouldn’t have lied to me about lying to my best friend, you shouldn’t have had invited me over, asked me to spend the night, put your body so close to mine, teasing me to make a move. And I shouldn’t have kissed you.”
No, I don’t say anything. I just grab my phone and put on my jacket and leave, slamming his apartment door as I exit. If I can’t sleep in, neither should he.
It’s a beautiful day in Lakeview, I ponder as I dash to catch the train back to campus. The entire morning, I expect the worse from Mr. Danger, calling Captain Spirit and telling him his side of the story. “And then he tried to kiss me!” he’d say after manipulating the facts, just like he manipulated me, just like he manipulated Captain Spirit.
And it really gets to me. My entire young adult life, when it comes to friends, the one rule I’ve declared rigid solid, unforgivable if broken, is “bros before hos.” Silly as it sounds, it can shred. And after everything I knew and stood by, to throw it all away for a 2-minute kiss? I feel like I’ve cheated myself.
The only legitimate reason I can come up with to justify Mr. Danger’s actions is that he was using me maybe to end things with his boyfriend, inconsiderate of the possibility that his actions might also ends things for me and my best friend. No, not his actions. Mine too. Fuck. But surely, there are easier ways to break off a relationship that do not involve setting up a trap. And in between all these rundowns of possible scenarios, my mind keeps lingering on what a great time I had hanging out with Mr. Danger, talking, smoking and watching the movie, before things got sticky.
I get back to my apartment and check my e-mail. And there it is. A notification from Facebook. Mr. Danger had written on my wall just mere minutes ago.
“Why the escape? Did an alarm go off?”
I’m positive that there’s some part of Mr. Danger that wants to get caught. That night at Sonotheque, I expect a hell blaze. An impending confrontation with Mr. Danger and with Captain Spirit, I’m ready to defend my loyalty, wavering as it might seem. I put on my second favorite pair of jeans, just in case drinks come flying at me during the course of the night.
Captain Spirit shows up alone. I’m relieved that I won’t have to deal with Mr. Danger just yet, but worried that his absence might suggest build up for a looming resolution even more explosive than I had planned for.
“Where is Mr. Danger? I thought you said he was coming with you tonight?” I ask even though I had told myself not to ask.
“He’s staying in tonight,” Captain Spirit answers without even a hint of suspicion. “I think we wore him out last night!”
But as the night progresses, I realize that Captain Spirit is clueless as to my whereabouts the night before and not a bit curious either. He would have mentioned something, if he thought something was off. Thankfully, I regain some emotional stability to enjoy the last hours at the club. Captain Spirit and I are standing by the bar, waiting for another round when he says, “I think I’m going to try to be single for a while.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I’m serious. All these guys, even when I know it’s not going anywhere, I keep investing so much. It’s so draining.”
“Oh come on! You always get the most devoted, reliable puppy dogs going crazy over you! All of your past boyfriends were upfront about how they felt, never played games. What more do you want?”
“I don’t know, I feel like something has been missing. And I keep buckling down each time a decent guy comes around. I don’t even know if they’re right. Or what I want, what I’m missing.”
“You’re happiest in a committed relationship. It’s in your DNA. You’re the boyfriend type and I’m the type who…” I stop and I can’t say it. It suddenly comes pouring over me—a drunken retrospective of my dating life so drenched in disaster.
“You’re the type who never settles,” finishes Captain Spirit with an emotional tissue to wipe away my self-pity like only a best friend could. “That’s what I’m missing, the one thing you always go for: sparks.”
“Sparks tend to combust,” I reply.
“Sometimes, but it’s better than faking interest in someone out of fear of being alone.”
“Yeah, but aren’t we alone now?” I ask raising an eyebrow and looking around the crowded club.
“No way!” Captain Spirit responds immediately. He’s still a little frightened of being alone. “We are… in transition,” he says after careful deliberation.
“In transition,” I repeat with emphasis. I’m liking the term. “And all we need is sparks to launch the rocket.”
“All we need is sparks,” he repeats.
As we make for the exit right before closing time, I turn to Captain Spirit and thank him for coming out. I had never felt the need to do that before, but for some reason, tonight, it feels like I should.
“Of course,” he says a little thrown off by my formal regards. “You planned this whole thing, you know I wouldn’t miss it.”
Captain Spirit was right that night. We weren’t alone.
The thing about sparks is that sometimes they’re actually an alarm signaling for you to run in the opposite direction. And sometimes, they can be going off right in front of you without you even realizing they’re real.
Girls in Madrid never leave the house on a night out unless they’re wearing bright stilettos. They don’t enter the club unless they can flirt with the bouncer. They know which heavy metal black doors lead to the hidden dens of delight and which lead to a dead end, or worse—a tourist trap.
And girls in Madrid don’t go to the gay quarter of Chueca unless they don’t have anywhere else to be the next day, because they know that going out with they gays means going out with a bang. They feel free to expose more of their inner slut without the straight males drooling at their feet, waiting to catch another glimpse of their lingerie. It means drinking cocktails all night, stomping on broken glass, climbing on table tops, bugging the DJ to play their favorite song, bumming cigarettes galore, finding out why this dance is what they love and of course, playing the innocent game of matchmaker with all the shy, cute boys standing all alone.
I’m the boy standing all alone. My classmates are off to London for the weekend, and I haven’t seen or heard Chico Rock in weeks, but I’ve decided not to spoil tonight. I’m an undercover club connoisseur at heart and a just because my partners in crime are M.I.A. will not deter me from infiltrating after dark.
So a shot of vodka gives me that last minute boost to go out and try to find the low-key, local gay hangout spot, Why Not? After discreetly circling a few times around the block, I see some guys knocking on a wooden door and a big guy dressed in a black tee letting them inside.
Gays in Madrid must have some sort of fascination with old Hollywood glamour. Why Not? is way smaller than I envisioned, more of a lounge really, and starting to get really crowded. A dim glass chandelier is the only source of lighting. Along the walls hang sepia-toned photographs of classic Hollywood stars.
Alone and increasing self-conscious of my state in the small space, I scan around for new, potential friends. I notice a group of adorable young guys, wearing graphic tees and jeans, laughing and drinking, teasing each other with light punches and head grabs. But then, as I’m about to approach, I look up and see two navy stilettos coming down, stomping down the stairs. They belong to a tipsy girl with bangs. She makes her way down, waving, winking and throwing kisses to several different guys to her left and right.
Her, I make a mental note and slowly walk over to try to intercept her as she heads towards the bar.
Navy Stilettos used to work as a bartender at Why Not? and knows the entire staff. She’s in school and wants to work in magazines. She belts out whenever she dances and thinks the DJ here is the best in town. She drinks vodka tonics and her ex-boyfriend was Mexican.
We have so much in common that our interaction gets less forced as the minutes go by (and as we down our vodka tonics). She invites me to her table, and I meet the rest of her girl friends and this well-built, dark-skinned Puerto Rican boy with a buzz cut, wearing a tight button-up shirt and designer jeans. He’s Navy Stiletto’s current boyfriend’s younger brother.
“Es su cumpleaños!” (It’s his birthday!) Navy Stilettos shouts as she hands him another drink. I congratulate him with a smile and think, “an 18-year-old with those arms?” We flirt for a while, but I tend to go for older guys, so he’s just eye candy at this point.
As the night progresses, Navy Stilettos convinces her bar friends to let the Birthday Boy get on top of the bar for a much deserved celebratory dance. They clear the empty glasses and Birthday Boy climbs on without much hesitation and starts dancing to Paulina Rubio’s latest hit, “Ni Una Sola Palabra” as the crowd cheers on. Then Navy Stiletto, jealous that her friend is hogging the spotlight, extends her arm and Birthday Boy brings her up to the bar. Then, he looks down at me, comes forward and extends his arm towards me, encouraging me to join them. My first instinct is to reject his spontaneous invitation, but then I look around, estimate the possibility of an embarrassing disaster and decide… why not?
I’m just as much of an attention whore as the next guy, but it’s intimidating dancing on top of the bar, in prime position to be gawked at and judged. And I’m wearing all my clothes. Just imagine what it’s like for those guys that do it all in briefs. Hence, I have the outmost respect for go-go boys, strippers and other exhibitionists.
We get off after a few minutes but my heart is still pounding. I definitely need another drink and a cigarette to calm down the adrenaline rush. I borrow a lighter from Navy Stilettos, and she congratulates me on my bold move to get up on the bar.
“Oye, las chicas y yo hemos estado pensando,” (Hey, the girls and I have been thinking) Navy Stilettos says with a flirtatious look. The look of a girl in the midst of plotting. “Queremos darle su regalo de cumpleaños,” (We want to give him his birthday present) she says nodding towards Birthday Boy.
I pretend to be clueless even though I know something’s up. Birthday Boy looks delicious despite his age, so I ask, “Que es su regalo?” (What is his gift?)
Hours later as the sun is rising, I find myself in Birthday Boy’s room. He shares a flat with his older brother, whom Navy Stilettos is spending the night with.
Birthday Boy and I have already made out on the dancefloor of the second club we went to. In the single stall restroom of the third club, I unbuttoned his shirt and felt up his toned torso. Now, alone in his room, the only thing left to do is continue the make out session but with far fewer articles of clothing and in more comfortable positions on his bed.
He pins me down with both arms and sticks his tongue in my mouth. He is a sloppy kisser, but I don’t mind. The best way to deal with it, I’ve learned, is to be sloppy back. He has full lips and likes it whenever I bite down gently on his lower one. Birthday Boy straddles me and sits up to unbutton his shirt. He does it slowly, one button at a time, while I play with his thighs resting close to my ribs. As soon as he takes it off all the way, I lift forward and begin licking his caramel-colored chest, firmly stroking his nipples with my tongue.
He pushes me back down and starts taking off my shoes and socks while looking up at me and smiling, almost innocently. It’s endearing. He’s like a puppy eager to play.
Then he unbuckles my belt and unzips my pants, digs down through my boxers and starts going down on me. I caress his head with one hand and use the other to lift my tee-shirt all the way up closer to my chest so I can caress my nipples while he sucks me off. The fact that he’s a sloppy kisser is not such a bad thing after all.
The morning after, Navy Stiletto flashes a huge smile as soon as I walk out of the room, hung over and wearing last night’s clothes. She hands me a cup of coffee, and with glee, mentions that she heard us last night. We both smile and gently chuckle, but for some reason, I get the impression that she got more satisfaction out of this situation than I did.