We opened the door to the clubhouse in North Philly at 3 a.m. A man in leather tried to harass us for the cover. When he saw who we had arrived with, he waved us in without another word. It was the night of our most recent TD2BD party. After getting paid and slinging one last fiery whiskey at Medusa Lounge we headed to an after party.
The bar was a shoddy plywood thing built into a corner with drug paraphernalia and empty beer bottles scattered across the top. In the corner opposite of the bar was a well-used stripper pole. Partygoers strung out on god-only-knows what sat staring at the ceiling. The tops of their beers rested lazily on slack lips that were cracked from dehydration. The room buzzed with laughter, jovial yelling, and smarmy comments between friends.
We passed under a giant banner that declared we were in Philly biker territory. Through a laundry room in the back and down a small flight of stairs there was an archway that led into a room where a giant dance party was raging. The incandescent light bulbs that illuminated the dirty carpet of the bar room were not to be found in here. Instead, heads bobbed up and down in a sea of darkness. The room was strewn with neon lights from gloves, hoops, and necklaces that danced across our vision. Those who were partaking in the less-than-legal festivities stared as colors trailed and painted the entire room like a camera leaving its shutter open on the Fourth of July.
A small group in the middle of this tempest was preparing to do dabs. This maestro of concentrated THC was trying to balance the waxy substance on a small metal tool while holding a blowtorch and an 18 inch glass-on-glass pipe in the other arm. Someone else was illuminating the scene with their cell phone like the lighting crew of a shoestring B-film. I continued on toward the DJ booth.
It was here that I came to the realization that I entered this world in the middle. I never truly worked my way up from the bottom. Here was an eighteen year old capable of curb stomping many of the club DJs I know spinning next to someone doing nitrous from a black balloon, in front of a crowd of future socialists, with dope fiends passed out in the milky darkness of the shadowy nooks and corners. My skull was being set on fire by the bass and I decided to step back out and get a beer.
I fought in vain with the bartender, who was proudly displaying his colors on a leather vest, to take my money for the beer he just handed me. He was so high he couldn’t remember how much it had cost and eventually lost interest and stepped away. I started pleading with him to take my money because the last thing I wanted to do was steal a beer from a biker gang that puts a “1%” on its insignia.
Back on the dance floor the women were sporting a canvas of skin covered in basement tattoos that I would not have necessarily known existed if they hadn’t been topless. I guessed that they were still hiding them from their parents, living a life by night that was separate from their days. As I turned my attention back to the DJ, I noticed that even here at the “bottom” he was wearing a nicer watch then I’ll ever be able to afford. Maybe I should have begun here instead.
There was a murmur that passed through the crowd like an electric current. Even though it was only a whisper, they were saying a word that could trigger a fight or flight response in even the most experienced partygoers: “Cops.” For a few surreal moments nobody stopped what they were doing but only exchanged silent, worried looks. The back of the makeshift dancehall abruptly began to pile out and the rest of the room followed swiftly. In that instant, the lights went up and you could clearly see the paraphernalia and deflated nitrous balloons that littered the beer slicked floor.
Suddenly we were no longer standing in a dancehall; it transformed back to a clubhouse meeting room. I imagined the bikers who would be standing here on a normal day holding beers and discussing whatever business it was they conjured up. The DJ booth now looked awkward and everyone set to packing up the equipment with a practiced haste. I looked to an exit sign hanging above a side door and looked back to the people I came here with.
They had provided the sound equipment for this party so there was no cutting-and-running this time. I looked to the man who brought the gear and he only took half of a second to gauge my next move. My eyes apparently said what I was thinking: “No man left behind”. He threw some cables at me so I could wrap them up while he hauled the speakers and subwoofer together.
I ran to the laundry room to evaluate our situation. It was a sea of sweaty heads piling through the front door like water through rapids. The cops towered over them, holding flashlights over their heads and trying to fight the current to get further into the house. Like hungry river sharks, they spotted me and began to fight even harder to get upstream.
I ran back and everyone was ready to roll out but it was too late. The first uniform walked in and we froze. She stepped into the middle of the room and through terse lips started running through a list of the drugs she could tell were being done. The cop shifted her flashlight to our faces while we were frozen and waiting for her judgment. No one made a sound. “You didn’t even try to hide it!” She said in slack jawed amazement. We waited.
“You better hurry up and get out of here before my Sergeant shows up.”
“Yes ma’am!” We said in unison and set to work continuing to haul the sound system together.
“Cheap beer…” she scoffed as she walked away past a tub of silver bullets and blue ribbons.
At 7am I finally crashed at my friend’s warehouse loft after trying to smoke a cigarette with shaking fingers. We recounted the night to his roommates and they simply shook their heads. Before they could say anything I was already fast asleep.