Concrete Jungle Promised Land This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

November 26, 2012
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It’s a nasty little hole in the side of a wall, complete with all the dirty essentials: webs of chipping paint on the bricks, windows blacked out from the inside, and an overly curly typeface outlining the French title spanning the building. The stench of alcohol and smoke pour from the door every time someone stumbles through it to vomit on the side of the road.

It’s paradise.

Oh yes, I think to myself. This place is definitely the real deal: questionably-dressed girls smothered in CoverGirl, guys in collared shirts fumbling to obscure their fake IDs in the poor lighting, hefty bouncers in suits wielding mini-flashlights like weapons. I teeter on my heels, waiting behind a group of girls who seem to be having problems with their IDs. The batting of a few lashes and the drone of their whining voices seem to fix that problem though, and they’re inside in a matter of seconds. I hand my license over for inspection and proceed inside with my friend.

It’s one of those things you just have to do in New York City. I’ve waited years for it. My friends want to hear all about it. And I’m in college now, shouldn’t I be out at night like this all the time? There’s nothing like this at home. The most exciting thing to do in suburbia is speed down I-95 with an arm sticking out the driver’s window in hopes of catching a few mysterious insects. But not here. I’m going clubbing. It’ll be like a better, wilder version of the homecoming dance every night.

The inside of the club is a psychedelic splattering of stools, chairs, a bar, and a DJ booth tucked into one corner. The center of the small space is reserved for the dance floor, where throngs of teenagers pulsate to the bone-jarring beat of the music. A disco ball hangs above, redirecting the colored lights so that they shower over the crowd like kaleidoscope rain. Weaving through the mess of bodies, we head to the back where there is a raised platform adorned with couches and plush chairs that have seen better days. I sit precariously on the edge of a couch with my friend, hyper-aware that my dress is new and nothing about this seat is clean. The people around me are exactly what I expected, much to my delight. The guys are ruggedly handsome, the girls artificially pretty. They all seem happy and at ease. I sit straight, smile, laugh at everything they say, even though I can’t make out the sounds of their voices over the pounding techno.

The first one approaches in only a matter of minutes. He’s attractive in a devilish sort of way, with a whisper of dark hair shadowing his jaw and sharp, dark eyes. There’s a mysteriousness about him, not entirely trustworthy, but not condemnable at this point. Perfect.

He introduces himself, and before I can hesitate the question spills from my mouth: “You dance?”

That smile of his quirks at the side. “I sure do.”

He holds a hand out for me, and I allow him to pull me to my feet. That’s polite, isn’t it? Polite is good.

The dance floor is now a crowded mosh pit of dancing couples and single girls standing in impenetrable circles of allies. On the raised platform boys stand like vultures surveying their prey. Hands stray through the crowd like disembodied limbs, and bodies mesh together in one colossal Monet of skin.

The boy pulls me over to a clear spot and wraps his arms around my waist. “So, you from around here?” he all but screams into my ear. I barely make out his words.

“I’m at NYU,” I reply. “You?”

“Columbia. I’m a sophomore in the business program there.” Columbia boy? Very cool.

After what I deem to be a suitable amount of time we part, and I move to the center of the floor. A handful of guys approach me, and the experience of dancing with them is not unlike the first boy. The second one is also a business student at Columbia. And then the third. I start to dance with number four, and I think Columbia business just as he says it aloud. I kindly reply that I too am a Columbia business student, and maybe I’ll see him around campus. He leaves more quickly than the others.

Now I’m onto my fifth partner. At first nothing seems wrong. He’s not the most coordinated dancer to ever grace the dance floor, but then hey, neither am I. His short black hair is slicked back away from his face with sweat, his shirt plastered with it. He’s breathing heavily, and riding each breath that caresses my shoulder is the pungent stench of alcohol. He stumbles once; I catch us. My shoes dig painfully into my toes as I struggle to keep my balance. Something incoherent slips from his sluggish lips. I sincerely hope it was an apology. He stumbles again, and this time his foot catches on the step behind us. There isn’t even a glint of panic in his inebriated eyes as he crashes to the ground. Limbs flail, arms pinwheel, legs scramble for purchase. His back connects with the wooden stair with a resounding crack as he crumples into one giant heap there. His eyes roll as if trying they are trying to focus on something but are unable to. He moans and pulls his body to the side, trying to find some purchase with which to lift himself. It’s useless. It’s obvious from the way he sways on his hands and knees that he is too drunk to stand straight.

I can’t help but think that he looks like a whale. In the midst of the musky scents, pounding music, and dizzying lighting there is nothing going through my mind but he looks like a beached whale. He certainly flails like one.

The people surrounding us step away and continue with their dancing. A few shoot disapproving glances at me as if it’s my fault I ended up dancing with a drinker. I too take a step back and it hits me: What am I doing here?

I know exactly what I’m doing here: looking for something that isn’t in this club. The only thing down here are supposed Columbia business majors and boys too drunk to stand upright.

The boy finally manages to pull himself up by rolling his body over slowly like a cement truck. He spins on his feet until it registers that he is facing me. His lips are moving, but I’m not even bothering to make a visible attempt at reading them now. He touches my arm as if to pull me back into the dance and I almost laugh right in his face. After something like that, he’s really going to try to continue? I turn away, pulling myself from his grasp. My friend sees me and leaves her own partner immediately. She asks no questions.

We say nothing as we walk out the door. Suddenly the dancers don’t look quite so glamorous in their cheap slits of fabric. The disco ball has an unattractive amount of broken panels on it, which messes with the overall effect. There’s something not-so-endearing about the way guys’ eyes probe girls’ bodies.

Apparently the underground clubbing scene in this city is full of faux business students and whales. There are no hidden romances or adventures to be had down here.

I think I’ll stick with the caffeine-high day-goers.

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