Exterior shot of the Playpen. A tall dark woman in a top hat and bondage gear is herding the crowd outside into the warehouse. She’s got a bullwhip in her hand. She’d crack it against the pavement to move everyone along. “Come inside and play,” she’d say, “or come again another day.” The police would only bust up the party if it wasn’t contained within the building. There were a lot of noobs that first night, I recall Cyrus complaining, so a handful of regulars rotated as security, breaking up would-be fights, chasing off freaks blasting fireworks in the street.
At the edge of the frame, a man with a plastic bag on his head like a hood leans against a wall. His arms are outstretched, his palms open. No one’s paying him any mind. When we got closer, Cyrus told him to scrounge for handouts elsewhere. I remember challenging Cyrus’s tone. That’s when he explained the arrangement with the cops. Still, I called him out on his attitude. He said he didn’t mean any harm. We each coughed up a buck. No hard feelings.
Closeup of a large brass paten piled high with multicolored tablets, pinks and baby-blues, three blunts the size of small cigars, a baggy stuffed with whitish powder, a liter of Jim Beam and a pint of Fernet-Branca, a nasty Italian liqueur making the rounds as the latest “hipster aperitif.” That’s what Bebe called it as we toasted the launch of Afterparty Number One on this most unusual Fourth of July weekend. If not for Cyrus and Bebe’s digicam fetish, I would have gladly blacked out everything. But with the always-open aperture of our digital age, forgetting is rarely an option. While I can’t say how much I grazed on this platter of intoxicants, whatever cocktails I mixed got me where I needed to go. Cyrus was pleased to see I’d given up my straight-edge ways. What are friends for?
Me and Cyrus leaning away from each other in contorted poses, our faces squished up like we’d been whiffing Fernet! Each of us has one arm extended with the hand raised, as if pushing each other away, while the index finger of the other hand points at our own chests. This photo was taken during a debate on the definitive epitaph for our generation.
“Fashionably Dissed & Franchised,” Cyrus said. “Branded at birth like mad cows, feeding on our own entrails, doped up to keep on killing, shopping and praying.”
“Picture the YouTube pitch.” I framed my hands around his face. “Generation YouBeMe: if you wanna be kewl like me, you need to listen to my music, play my video games, watch my DVDs, wear my designer thrift-store threads, know the song and artist on my ringtone. See me on my fallenangels page. Maybe I’ll friend you back.”
We stand by our positions.
In profile, two bob-haired girls, total strangers to me, tongue-kissing. I snapped this pic, I remember now. I couldn’t believe it when they agreed to let me pose them. Bent at the waist, chests and asses pushed out, hands on tight cheeks barely covered by jean cut-offs, arms akimbo like wings, they could be busty gargoyles or a prep-school boy’s masturbation fantasy. They’re wearing loose striped ties, white dress shirts, untucked, half unbuttoned, black bras.
Sitting Buddha-legged beneath them on the floor is Cyrus. That fucker. He weaseled his way into the shot, crawled between my legs while I was setting it up. His eyes are closed. He’s grinning like the cat in a (cowboy) hat. I should have slapped him.
Joy. Cyrus and Bebe’s beautiful friend. She’s in charge of quality control on fallenangels. She told me how she’d scan the dating profiles with software she’d written herself and give the boot to any scammers, spammers, pedophiles or goat lickers lurking in the community. She would also issue one-time warnings to users who had been singled out as potentially dangerous or, as she put it, “complete assholes.” The fallenangels were a tolerant group, so to be flagged by at least a dozen members meant acting way out of line.
In the photo, we’re collapsing into each other’s arms with bubbly smiles like we’d been best friends since childhood. We were probably just trying to stay vertical after Bebe pushed us together for the pic. I may have made a move to kiss her. No, I only thought about it.
Joy reminded me of a female Cyrus. Like him, she was long-limbed, light-haired, mid-twenties, fond of cowboy hats and deeply into music, art and movies. Her father was also a preacher. She’d come to Gethsemane from Richmond to study at Bliss U, but she quit halfway into her third year. I don’t recall her saying why. She met Cyrus at an art class she’d sat in on. That’s how she got involved with his “alternative social network for extreme desires.”
She’s a self-made tech goddess, MENSA level, Bebe or Cyrus had said. I remember feeling jealous when I heard this, but not for long. Tingly all over, I was in no condition to bring myself down. It helped when she groaned about her dead-end part-time gig in online ad sales. Her job doesn’t jibe with her identity. But who am I to judge?
Cyrus showing me how to spin my Savage like a cheerleading soldier. He’d introduced me to the local shooting gallery earlier that week. Toward the end of our time there, I started to pop the targets. In the photo I’m standing opposite him with a drink in my hand, shoulders hunched, brow knitted, trying to track his technique. There’s a crowd around us in a sloppy circle. He seems thrilled to be the center of attention, his face serious, an ironic curl at the edge of his lips and eyes. When it was my turn, I dropped the rifle twice in midtwirl. It wasn’t loaded. The spectators hoot ‘n’ hollered. Whatever.
Me grinding with a stranger about Bebe’s height, though of a smaller build, more girly. She’s rocking on my thigh between her legs. My fingers hooked in her belt loops, I’m gazing at the dandelions on her short-shorts winking up at me. Her arms are in the air, head tilted back in the shadows of ecstasy. Her black T-shirt, form-fitted with the sleeves rolled up, reads LOVE IS STRONG AS DEATH. Yeah, I remember tugging on the collar, nibbling on her neck. I shouted over the deep house beats: “I’d be happy to die inside of you!” My best-ever come-on.
She said something like . . . “Every love, like every time you come, gives and takes so much out of you, out of me, out of God.”
“In and out,” I reminded her, calling up images of hamburgers and whores, the ex, A Clockwork Orange.
“What brings us closer pushes us away,” she said.
“Not if we hold on,” I said.
She soon let go, floating off into the waves of music. I wonder how she would have liked it if we’d made it in the Petting Zoo.
I’m squatting in a corner, face down. There’s a tinsel halo in my hair. Light from a lamp on the ledge above me stains everything red. My jeans, boots and the leather band on my wrist appear to be wet, blood-soaked. My wife beater looks like ghostly armor. My arms are truncheons, the knuckles of my fist shotgun shells, the drink in my hand a grenade.
I must have been thinking on the ex and my son, how neither one was in my life, and I was to blame.
Cyrus and a bare-chested guy I don’t know. They’ve got a skinhead in a shoulder lock. I didn’t witness this brawl, but Bebe told me later how Cyrus and some of his fallenangels bros thwarted a carload of Klan kin, high from the day’s rally in the park, looking to beat down some others.
With his arms pinned above his head and his mouth ajar, the white boy looks like he didn’t know what hit him. His posture and facial expression recall that of a chimpanzee. A shadow across his upper lip gives him a Hitler stache, I swear. I wish I’d had a hand in this fun.
Cyrus is badass, though he’d say there’s no joy in violence. I keep telling myself this. But the way the world is now, ever was and will be, it seems inevitable: we’re bound and gagged by our own self-destruction.