John is sitting across from me, sobbing. Broken. He has had his wallet and money stolen. He has spent the previous three hours sleeping on the street, only to wake when someone stole his last possession from his pocket, a pack of Marlboro Lights.
This all is my fault because last night I took him to Amerika, a place where you can have the best night of your life. Or the worst.
Buenos Aires’ Amerika is an astonishing club, full of sweat and sin. Over three thousand people pack into the space on weekend nights, taking full advantage of an open bar that comes included in the ticket price.
Bartenders drip with perspiration as they dump 40-ouncers of Budweiser into crunchable plastic cups, pop endless bottles of champagne and pour shots directly into the mouths of alcohol-happy Portenos. The perimeter of the dance floor is surrounded by a drainage duct, in which busboys dump half-empty drinks and hose vomit.
All the while a crowd loses its collective mind.
The idea was simple. My new friend and I would have a crazy night out. I had met John in Spanish class. He was twenty six and came to Argentina from Istanbul, having just split up with his long-time girlfriend and recently telling his family that he was gay. “My mother cried. She said that I am just depressed and I could not possibly like dick.”
The problem is that rump-roasting is not taboo in Turkey. It is not uncommon for straight men to have sex with transvestites or gay men – the definitive rule being that if you’re on top, you’re straight, no matter what you’re dipping into. In a culture where straight men are banging gay men for pleasure, I can see why it would be confusing to figure out just where your preferences lay.
We took a taxi to Palermo, then waited in line with a straight couple who had gotten a babysitter and taken the night off from the misery of a screaming infant. I asked them if they knew that the bar was mostly gay. The wife replied, “Yes but it’s ok. We like it because we can forget that we are parents and sometimes we forget to be dirty and sexy. So we come here. Nobody is more, how you say, filthy than the gays.”
Fifty pesos later, John and I entered the main hall. A man dressed like Charlie Chaplin was swinging overhead on a trapeze, as a remixed classic Madonna track blared from the perfect sound system. Thousands of bodies grinded and cheered as the beat took a less pop direction, moving into a chicka-chicka beat and away from The 80’s.
A drag queen who could have be mistaken for Iggy Pop howled and swung his hair wildly. Arms reached over shoulders for drinks at the bar. Girls with lit cigarettes flailed their arms all over, like medusas with a nicotine habit. People were dancing anywhere that there was room – on top of podiums, on the stage and on couches.
We played our part, consuming dangerous house vodka and gossiping about the people in the crowd. Iggy Pop came over and danced for us, his cheap red heels accentuated by varicose veins and emaciated legs. “Whoooooooooooooooo”, he would say after every tenth beat of the music. “Whoooooooooooooooooooo”.
The smoky dance floor eventually pushed us upstairs, to an area called the “Love Tunnel.” In most circles it’s simply referred to as a Dark Room, an area of a club where people congregate to slam bodies. I squoze into the curtained-off area about the size of a basketball court, the air still thick with thumping beats. It was 4:30am, which seemed to be the peak time for a significant portion of the crowd to be getting some action.
John and I split up. I was immediately cruised by an attractive Argentine, who hit on me in with the typical tact of most men in Buenos Aires clubs – he put my hand on his crotch. Clearly this “line” had worked before, probably because he was packing a piece so large that it should not have been inserted in anything smaller than the eye of a hurricane. I took a pass.
I wandered by one couch where a straight couple was quietly doing The Nasty. I was surprised when the man waved at me, then put his hand back on the woman’s waist as he regained his stride – it was the couple from line.
Eventually I found John and told him that I was probably going to leave. He wasn’t going anywhere. “I will stay and take a taxi home myself.” His shirt was ripped open, his hair was sweaty and he had the crazy look of a cat in front of a bowl of guppies. I told him to be careful and text me when he got home.
No text arrived and I assumed that he had pulled. By noon I became worried and called his phone, which was shut off. I signed onto Facebook and saw that his profile had been dormant for 18 hours. Ten minutes later, an instant message popped up from John. “I am so fucked.”
He recounted his evening. He had been fleeced of his wallet and cell phone in the Love Tunnel, not realizing it before it was too late. He asked the club to call the police – they simply kicked him out. He slept on the street next to the club where, at 8am, a bouncer tossed his empty wallet into his lap.
An employee took pity on him and gave him 20 pesos to get home, at which point John realized that his keys had also been stolen. A locksmith was called and two hours later, he was broke.
I bought him dinner tonight and he looked like a man who had run two marathons. Shaking and sad, he offered a smile and offered up the truth that we both knew, despite how horrible it all seemed at the moment.
“We’ll be laughing about this night, one day.”