“This is so outside my wheelhouse,” Nari Yoon said. My best friend was nearly naked in her tiny bra and panties. Disgusted, she threw a heap of clothes on my living room floor. “Why, oh why do you think going to a gay bar is a good idea?”
“Can you please, please stop using ‘wheelhouse’?” I held up my hand talk show style. “It’s one of those damn words that’s way overused.” Then, as if talking to an impatient three-year-old, I explained it to her again, slowly. “I’m not making as much money on the straight stuff anymore. The old pros in the online forums, fora, whatever. They keep telling me I need to try a few male/male sites. I’m not a gay man. I just want to spend one night trying to put a finger on their tastes. The upside is that no one will hit on you. I promise.” Nari hated going to bars. A Korean woman in a straight L.A. bar was the heat seeking a million penis shaped missiles.
“Fine,” Nari said, stalking back to my room. She was in. Thank God. I would not have the courage to do that on my own. “So what do I wear to a gay bar?” she yelled. I didn’t answer. She’d work it out fine. Nari did not need my help with fashion.
Twenty minutes later, Nari emerged from my bedroom, this time fully dressed in a body skimming, grey silk mini dress with a stand-up collar, and some kind of embroidered flower down the front.
“Um, that kind of screams Asian,” I said. This was a woman who did not like to be boxed into a stereotype.
“I like the dress. My mom got it made for me in Singapore a few years ago. I never get to wear it. If no one is going to hit on us, I can be as Asian as I want, capisce?”
“That’s Italian.” I fished in my always full, Neverfull tote and pulled out the crumpled list I’d printed earlier. I looked at my watch. “So do you want to go to Big Fat Dick Friday or Fresh Meat Friday?”
Nari snatched the list from my hand. “Daisy Fletcher! Would you talk to your mother with that mouth?”
I shook my head, but the truth was that my mother would probably relish that kind of talk. She thought I was a prude. “Big dicks or fresh meat?” She put a red press-on nail to her matching ruby lips. “Are they both in Boystown?”
I shook my head. “Nope. One is right here. MJ’s is on Hyperion.”
“That settles it. A mile drive is doable. Plus there won’t be any cruising on Rowena. Sunset is a bitch on weekends.”
“We’re already here?” Nari asked seventeen minutes later.
It had taken us longer to get down the elevator, into the car, and out of the garage of my condo complex than to drive to the club. I was lucky and found a spot on a residential street around the corner, squeezing my twenty-year-old Mercedes between two hulking SUVs.
How had I never noticed the club before? I’d been on that street a thousand times, buying shit wine at Trader Joe's, less shitty wine at Gelson’s, or really expensive wine at Say Cheese next door.
Despite all those alcohol runs, the nondescript gray stucco building had never registered on my radar. I’d even been to that Burrito King across the street without noticing it. I looked around the streets of Los Feliz. Nothing about the upscale Los Angeles neighborhood screamed debauchery.
“Do you like this car? Seriously?” Nari liked her bling new and shiny. Any Mercedes older than a lease term was not on her approved list.
“It has airbags.” It was a tank. Even with soccer mom SUVs and Hummers barreling down the road, I felt safe in the car.
“You will never pick up a guy in this thing.”
“I don’t want to pick up a guy.” I’d seen the worst of men in my chosen profession. I did not need one in my life.
She looked up and down at my choice of clothes. “That’s obvious.”
I didn’t think I’d done too badly. I was wearing a Ralph Lauren black silkish jumper with spaghetti straps and a matching faux-fur collar jacket. Modest pumps. My Connecticut born-and-bred mother would have been proud. “It’s appropriate,” I said.
“You dress like that Charlotte from Sex and the City, only with less, um, sex in this city,” she laughed at her own joke. It was a high pitched cackle of a laugh. I started to think dragging Nari along was not a good idea. She would not be incognito at MJ’s.
“Her character was from Connecticut,” I said in my own defense. After living in Madison for my first eighteen years, and New Haven for four more, there was nothing I knew better than appropriate dress. Political fundraiser, baby shower, high school reunion, I knew exactly what to wear. After Nari, Ann Taylor was my second best friend.
“You haven’t been in Connecticut in ten years.”
“I’m thinking of going to our college reunion.”
“And what are you going to tell them about your day job?”
“I’m a web designer.”
She cackled then snorted. “Yeah, whatever. Let me talk to the bouncer. I’ll get us in.”
MJ’s was, well, wow. In the last ten years I’d seen almost every sort of sexual display there was. But even this, men in full sexual display, was a lot to take in. I hoped I’d remembered my small leather notebook. I could probably make a lot of money in gay porn. Dozens of men loitered outside. Whether they were waiting to go in or waiting to go home with someone was anyone’s guess.
Nari walked past the line of men and up to one with a clipboard and headset. A few hand gestures from her, and the bouncer sprung the latch and lifted the velvet rope. That was why I’d brought her. She could get into any place in L.A. Me, probably not. Without surgically enhanced tits or a skirt that stopped just below my ass, my appropriately dressed self wasn’t getting in anywhere that opened after dark. Nari was always my ticket in.
Inside the club was a whole other story. The music was loud and the bass thumping. Men in the teeniest, tiniest underwear imaginable danced on boxes strategically placed around the club. How any man could ever have a conversation in such a place was a mystery. Truth-be-told, there didn’t seem to be much talking going on.
Nari dragged me toward an open booth, and I followed her—knocking a few guys in the groin along the way with my poorly placed bag. My face tightened with embarrassment. Oops. I looked down at the tote hanging over my shoulder. Clearly this was a clutch kind of place. I mouthed ‘sorry,’ and shoved the purse as far into the booth as possible.
Nari volunteered to get us drinks. While she was gone, I watched. I itched to get that notebook out, but didn’t want to look like a gawker at the zoo. I was as liberal as the next person in L.A., but didn’t have any gay male friends. I hadn’t even been to the infamous West Hollywood Halloween parade, even though I’d always secretly wanted to go. Except for various billboards along Santa Monica Boulevard promoting condom use, warning against meth use, or urging HIV testing, I didn’t know a damn thing about the city’s gay culture.
“What the heck took you so long?” I shouted, sipping the Manhattan she’d brought me.
“‘Cute Asian Girl’ does not work here,” she shouted back. Nari put her glass of red wine on the table and we checked out the show. Not a single soul bothered us for at least an hour as the club filled to capacity. I kept trying to count heads, checking my numbers against the official limit on the fire marshal sign. I swore I’d leave, research or not, if the club looked like it exceeded capacity by too much.
A group of four or five guys pressed against the table, nearly upsetting the dregs of my drink.
“Can we share the booth?” the oldest looking one asked. His few gray hairs made me wonder what he was doing in this club.
Nari looked like she was going to shake her head. I intervened. This would be research gold.
“Sure.” I pulled Nari’s arm and scooted us to the top of the horseshoe shaped booth. The men piled in on both sides, except the asker, who went for drinks. I looked them over a little more closely.
“We’re here for his bachelor party,” one of the men said, jabbing a thumb toward another.
I wasn’t the most savvy person in the world, but two gay men having their stag party in the same place seemed counterintuitive. So was one of them not gay? I smiled tentatively.
“So who’s the groom?” Nari asked what I couldn’t.
“I’m Scott, the straight guy,” the blonde said, raising his hand. Political correctness crisis averted. “My fiancé figured I couldn’t get in trouble here. So she enlisted Rafe and Gabe to bring me out.”
I studied the guys for the first time. They were your run-of-the-mill above average L.A. guys, except the guy next to me. His arm brushed against mine, and our eyes locked. He looked good enough to eat. Too bad he was gay, and too bad I didn’t date. I pulled my right hand from my lap and extended it toward him. “I’m Daisy.”
“Rafe,” he said, grabbing the whisky or bourbon one of the guys had brought to the table. They’d got served a hell of a lot quicker than Nari. I put my outstretched hand back in my lap. Scott pointed, introducing each man in turn. They downed their drinks and left for the dance floor.
“Save our seats,” the one called Arturo said.
“O-okay,” I said. They disappeared into the gyrating mass of male flesh.
Half an hour later, they came back sweaty and far more tipsy than they’d been when we first met them. Drinks appeared again.
Nari looked at Gabriel and hot Rafe in turn.
“Are you Korean? Rafe?” She didn’t keep the disdain from her voice when pronouncing his name. I shoved my right leg against hers.
They looked at each other. “It’s Raphael, actually.” Rafe/Raphael answered. “Our mom is from Incheon.”
Nari said something in Korean. To my ears it sounded like “An-yŏng-ha-se-yo,” which even I knew to be ‘hello.’ I watched a lot of Korean drama. It was quickly becoming a second language.
“Sorry,” Rafe shook his head. “My Korean is shit.”
Nari sat back. “Oh.” Although she’d been born in New Jersey, her parents spoke strictly Korean in her house. Their only friends were from the small, tight-knit immigrant community in Riverside. To her, Raphael not speaking the language would make him one of those who dismissed their heritage like so much detritus. She hated those kinds of Koreans.
He looked at me. I’d been ignorable before. Now, in light of the evil looks shooting from Nari’s eyes like laser beams, I was a likely refuge. “So, you’re Daisy.” Undeservedly elated, I nodded. “What are you gals doing here?”
“Just wanted a girls’ night out without the guy pressure.” I invoked our cover story.
“Guess that’s not a problem in here. Do you live out this way?”
“Yep, I’m a Los Feliz girl.” I did my gringo pronunciation, making it sound like Felix the cat. “You?”
“West Hollywood. Rent control. My brother lives in the same building.” Well, that was expected.
“Is it crazy, living there?” My face flushed hot. I didn’t want him to think I assumed every night in every apartment in West Hollywood a den of iniquity.
“No, it’s a pretty quiet street, except for the tour buses.” He accepted another drink, slammed it back, then looked at me again. More closely this time. That stare made me shiver. It was too bad he was gay, because we had a spark. I started wondering just how gay he was then shrugged it off.
People are born gay, it’s not a ‘lifestyle’ choice, I admonished myself. My not so magic vajayjay wasn’t going to turn him straight. I looked back into those chocolate brown eyes, trying not to get lost in their depths. He answered a question I hadn’t asked. “F. Scott Fitzgerald died in my building. Huge tourist stop.”
“He died in your building in West Hollywood. The Great Gatsby guy?”
“Yep. Keeled over of a heart attack.” He turned away again. I wanted to do anything to keep him talking. The warmth of his leather-clad leg against mine was what I’d been missing all night. I just hadn’t known it.
“What do you do?” I asked. He hesitated for a bit. Hope burgeoned in my chest. Maybe he had a job like mine. Something you couldn’t quite tell anyone about until you sussed them out. Radical feminists and religious zealots never got the straight dope.
“I’m a comic.”
I could barely hear him above the latest song, louder than the last. Did he draw comics, like the funny papers?
“How does that work? I keep hearing newspapers are dead.”
He squinched his very even black brows and gave me a funny look.
“Rafe, you have to do it!” Arturo yelled.
“C’mon, you’re famous for it,” one of the other guys chimed in.
“You know I’ve retired Rafe,” he said.
Rafe or Raphael, which was it? Inside jokes were the hardest for those on the outside. I settled in to watch the back and forth. This was going to be good. I could tell.
Finally, the fiancé went for the kill. “It’s my last day as a single man. You have to do this for me. All the fun is about to get sucked out of my life.” He gave a little boy pout that seemed incongruous on a guy built like a linebacker.
Rafe acquiesced. “I need another drink for this.” He snatched fiancé Scott’s. “Lindsay will thank me for this.” He downed it in one swallow like the others that preceded it. In the hot club, the swish of air turned my leg cold as he stepped from the booth and went to confer with the DJ. No matter how I craned my neck, I could no longer see Rafe.
Madonna’s Vogue replaced Beyoncé on the turntable. The club suddenly went black. A single spotlight appeared on one of the dancing platforms and Rafe stood there in skin tight black leather pants and a black silk, button-down shirt. Clothes that had looked ordinary moments ago were sexy as hell under that light.
The din that had been constant, plummeted to a low murmur. I looked at the guys’ expectant faces. Then shivered in anticipation. What the hell was going to happen? Then the music got loud again.
“Strike a pose,” Madonna said.
And Rafe did. It was an incredibly sexy pose which I should have expected. I’d been in that damn club for nearly three hours. It had been nothing but posing from incredibly hot, incredibly unavailable men. With every beat of the music, she sang and Rafe undid one button after another.
The shirt sailed toward the table. I dreaded it touching the alcohol that had spilled on the wood. Real silk wouldn’t survive it. So I stood and caught it in mid air. I was rewarded with a broad wink. I pulled the shirt to my chest, and I couldn’t help noticing the heady scent that rose from it. Nari glared at me. After sending a brief apology to the dry cleaner who was going to have to fix it, I balled the shirt up and pushed it deep into my lap.
Lyrics got suggestive. The tight ribbed black tank Rafe was wearing close to his skin, came off as well. I didn’t try to grab for it this time. I was already in for a stiff lecture.
Bumping and grinding, Rafe was butt down on the platform undulating to the beat, the tight leather pants obscuring nothing. The names of movie and sports stars blasted from the speakers. The top two buttons of his pants came undone. Hollywood’s female icons thumped with the bass. The zipper came down.
I knew what was coming. How could I not? I couldn’t look away. I could look all day. Looking was okay. Like the black and white video of the song, lights pulsed, throwing the club into black and white relief.
A quick black out, and the pants were gone. I must have missed the shoes and socks, because Rafe was gyrating on the platform almost as naked as the day he was born, save for some black boxer briefs shot through with silver threads.
Those threads were only on the front center, and back of the shorts, highlighting what was underneath. Before I knew it, he was letting his body go with the flow. It was a nice flow. His skin was golden, and bathed in a sheen of sweat. The lights cast blue, red, and ended in gold on him. Silence. A single beat. And it went dark again.
I didn’t care if Nari thought I was crazy. I clapped and hooted as loudly as his friends and those around me. The lights and music started again, but Rafe was gone. Another of the interchangeable hot go-go guys took to the platform. The replacement dancer’s nearly naked form cooled me down right quick.