Den of Zombies

There's a nickel-and-dime titty club on 36th and University called the Minx. I live down the street from it. Whenever I have a friend over, he always remarks, "Some night we're going in there," with a finger pointed to the white building that bills its girls as the "Worlds Hottest."

If you take 36th down to El Cajon Boulevard, you'll be on Hooker Corner. Early in the night on payday Fridays, Hooker Corner looks more like a parking lot than an intersection. Black SUVs with chrome spinner rims are in gridlock traffic. This is where we are, in my friend's pickup doing cocaine from a vial and spoon. I push a finger against one nostril, and with the other nostril I suck on the little black spoon. I shake my head and rub my nose at the hot sting and choke on the numbing goo in the back of my throat.

Another hit, and we hop out and navigate around the mini-skirts and halter tops, strappy high heels and hoop earrings to get to the stop sign. We walk west on El Cajon to 35th and see denim-and-leather hipsters spilling out from the Zombie Lounge to smoke cigarettes on the sidewalk.

One restroom in the Zombie Lounge is covered with little framed paintings and photographs of pinup girls. Artistic renderings of Betty Rubble, Bettie Page, and can-canning cheerleaders stare down at your junk while you use the facilities. The second restroom in the same hallway is covered with graffiti and papered with band stickers and flyers. I'm in the graffiti room. A flickering light above shines a cone into the space, bright enough to reveal the chunks of puke around the toilet rim, but not bright enough to lighten up the corners of the ceiling. Clack-clack-clack! The door rattles and I grimace at the smell of piss on the floor. I'm rinsing my hands when the door clack-clack-clacks again. I yell, "Use the other one!"

A muffled voice calls in to me, "C'mon, I've got to piss!" With a rough brown paper towel over my hand, I slide the bolt back, and before I can push on the door it swings open. A tall, fat, old guy in diving-goggle eyeglasses shoves past me, and as soon as he's inside he sprays piss all over the porcelain and tile. Twisting his head back over his shoulder, he yells, "This ain't no social call, it's a toilet!"

"Doesn't look like you've ever used one." A puddle splashes at his feet, and I toss the wadded-up towel into the trash. I hustle into the hallway, and Mongo Peeallover's voice comes out to me in an apologetic tone, "I have a Prince Albert, but..."

"Nobody cares!" I yell and slam the black door against the jamb. My friend swims against the current of tattoos and psychobilly pompadours at the bar. He appears at our seats with two Bud Lights. "Not a moment too soon," I yell at him, pull a swallow off the bottle, and set it in a puddle on the tabletop. I'm starting to get really high from the blow, and I need the alcohol to anchor me. "I like this place," I scream over the din of a punk band in the adjoining room. "I like the female bartenders who get guys drinks real fast instead of the other way around. Some bars, a guy can stand there and suffer like it's an alcohol drought."

The drugs make my scalp crawl, and the veins in my neck get hot and start throbbing against my jaw, which I clench. I've OD'ed again, I think, and I pull a slug from the brown bottle in my wet fingertips. Cold sweat gathers at my temples and across my brow; when I wipe it off I keep rubbing and rubbing my face so that I'm sure I look like a drugball loser. The music gets louder and louder. I'm in cocaine purgatory. I want to babble on about something, anything, but I'm too high to talk. The music gets louder and louder. I rub my face more and more. The music gets louder.

"Fuck this place!" I scream to my friend. Just as I yell across the table, the music cuts off and I holler into silence, "LET'S GO! THIS," my words taper off into a whisper. As I hop down off my stool and push away from the tall table, I shield my eyes from the glares and tip my bottle up to empty it. We step from the bar's warm, dark interior to the wet sidewalk outside. Down at Hooker Corner, we nestle into the bucket seats of my friend's truck and slam and lock the doors. Before I can say, "Well, what do you think? Should we have another?" he is flicking the bottom of the brown vial with his finger to calibrate how much is left.

"Couple more," he says, and we each take a snootful.

"Sorry I made you leave," I say in the quiet cab. "I was freakin' out."

"It's okay," he answers. "It's almost last call anyway."

At my place, I patch together a rock soup of booze. The liquor stores in the area are closed, so we make do with what I've got: a little Jim Beam, a little Jack Daniel's, a little soda, a little Coca-Cola with ice, and we stand in my kitchen with a mug of fuming syrupy goodness.

"We've got a little more hooch left, but no mixers," I say, scanning the fridge. "And all the goddamned stores are closed on this side of town. There's no bars left open, and I'm a little spun up."

"I've got it!" My friend slams his hand on the kitchen counter. "We'll go to the Minx. It's open till 4 a.m., c'mon."

We power-shoot our cups and out the door and into the street and amble down to the corner. Once I push through the leather curtain that hangs over the doorway, I feel the need to wash my hands. I start to storm in but stop at the second curtain. A dark hand reaches out and grabs my shirt. The arm is attached to a man in a backlit box with a cash register. His face looks as if it's been stepped on by a horse. He releases my shoulder and plugs a hole in his neck. With a throaty gravel, he croaks out, "Cover's 13 dollars, but I'll let you in for 8." We pay, and he hands us two raffle tickets.

"What the hell are these?" He makes a drink motion and gestures toward a soda bar behind the main stage. A couple of guys in Steeler jerseys and chain necklaces shoot a game of pool just inside the right-hand side of the door. About the only light from the interior is black light, and it clangs and wiggles on the bright stripes of the puffy chairs and casts an eerie tone on the girls. It makes their eyes and teeth milky blue. At the bar we trade our tickets for Cokes, no ice, and over the booming bass of 50 Cent's "In Da Club," my friend yells, "I might get a lap dance from the white girl!"

"They can't even take their clothes off anymore!" I yell back...then ask, "Wait! Which one?" He points to a tall, slender college-aged girl, and I yell, "Oh, you mean Svetlana, the illegal Russian immigrant?" We sit in black-lit chairs that have the bonkers green-and-blue pattern and make stories for each of the strippers.

"That's what happens to your body when you've had three cesareans and you've eaten deep-fried everything for 30 years."

"This one worked as a bank teller until she did a little time upstate for stabbing her ex-husband."

"That one's a man."

When the doorman passes our table on the way to the john, he leans over, thumbs his neckhole, and croaks, "Cancer," as though we asked him why he had a hole in his neck.

"Let's do it," I say after doling out a handful of ones to various G-stringed working moms, and we carry our cups of cola out of the joint and back to my place, where we mix it with what whiskey I've got and we do a couple rails of blow off a CD case on my kitchen counter.

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