Tag Archives: Whiskey

London, England

The Crucified Rabbit In Fishnet Stockings

By Rasp Thorne

“Naw mate, not like that, give it here, give it, this is the way to really do it…” a hand with chipped black-and-orange nails stickin’ out of white cutoff kid gloves intrudes my downward grading vision and snatches the tiny bottle of butyl nitrite crammed neath my nose and slams it down a bit too hard on the bar causing spittle-like droplets to fall, spread out and evaporate leaving little acetone craters on the scraped lacquered wood. The rush rises an’ swarms my head then drops with the warped motion of a speed-bump to heat infest my chest an’ pulse through my loins like a sadistic and unattainable wet dream. I clutch my hand between my legs and shudder, fucken poppers always make me horny, make ya wanna stick yer prick in any old hole and this is not the place to feel such things. I look up at James once the heat recedes and see him blowing on the Lucky Strike he’s just dipped into the bottle. He has a rubber pig snout on and is dressed only in a stained pale blue bonnet and as of yet not wet diaper. That and the kid gloves and a nookie on a piece of twine that hangs down to his stomach.

“This ‘ere is how ya do it. Snort!” He says, leaning in too close an’ shaking it in front of my face before grabbing a mini jack-o-lantern off the bar an’ lighting up from the tea candle inside. He heaves in sucken a good quarter of it down to a mean looking conic ember like a spear just pulled from a forge. He shoves it at me. I avert my head. It’s too fucken early for this shit and I’ve already got a half pint of Bells an’ a few ciders sloshing ‘round in my gut an’ I’m already forgetting the basics like why the fuck am I at this tranny bar an’ why is James here too an’ why the fuck when it’s eight thirty on Halloween are we the only ones in here besides the bartender?
Then it spikes me like Jesus.

“Where’s my fucken crucifix?” I blurt to Chloe or Joey or whoever it is who’s mini-skirted yet still wigless and is angrily smathering pale pink lipstick on in front of the bar mirror.

“Ya mean the one right in front of you?” he chirps back in the bitchy tone that beer gut stubbled trannies are wont to take. I ignore him and look ahead and sure enough right to the side of the register is my crucifix, stuck into polished purple rocks and bloated sea monkeys of a fluid-filled fishless goldfish bowl. There really is no merit for that bartender’s bitchy tone for I could of sat here the whole goddamn night and not have recognized the thing being that it’s been utterly transformed from a three and a half foot piece of rotted fencepost to the bead and lube and popper and g-string strung shrine now glistening before me.

“Get that fucken blond wig offa there. We all know Jesus was a brunette…” I grumble, slightly pissed off that I’d lent it to Stella Guru for her Mary Magdalene oil painting. God knows how it ended up here.

“Here you go Raspy,” Chloe or Joey purrs taking the last thong off of it and snapping it into the fruit fly hovered trash. “We’ve had all sorts of fun with it. Amanda just snatched it from behind the bar the other night and did this whole big performance piece off the cuff to that Lady Gaga song, you know the one that’s all Ra ra Na na na-a! Ra Ra Na na na na-a! of course she was totally brain-caned but really, when she’s on she is quite….”

I grab the crucifix and lug it over to my trash can and strap it onto the dolly with pound-store bungee cords.

“Hey James, man, I gotta go.”

“Where? Snort!!!” he snorts.

“Torture Garden.”

“Where, Mass Brixton?”

“Naw down by London Bridge I think, Essay-somethin’”

“SE-One,” Joey-Chloe sneers at me.

“Yeah, there. Give me a hand with this shit really quick?” I say wheeling the dolly towards the bottom of the stairs. He pulls his snout off and sucks down the rest of his popper soaked smoke and shuffles over to where I’m standing. I don’t bother saying goodbye to the bartender who’s too immersed making wide O’s with his mouth in the bar mirror to notice. We go up the stairs and set the dolly down on the pavement. A crowd of squealing teenage girls dressed like tacky fluorescent whores with pink and green tutus blast by us, their too high heels clacking the cracked pavement, their lips smacking loudly between interjected shrills. It is Halloween after all but a whole group of teenage whores?

“What are they sposed to be? The Neon Sluts of the East End?”

“It’s a hen party mate.”

“Don’t look like hens to me, maybe chickenheads. All right, I gotta get goin’’. Runnin’ late already”

“How ya getting there.”

“Q’s driving. We’re doing a walkaround thing together at TG an’ then I’m going to Barden’s to do  the staplegun thing ‘round midnight or 1 or so.”

“Might see you at Barden’s later. There a list?”

“Yeah but it’s Duncan’s night anyways so you’re fine. All right, later.” I say starting to drag the dolly away from the neon Moustache behind me.

“Later Rasp.” I hear over my shoulder followed by a booming rutting pig snort that makes me shudder inwardly and scratch the back of my neck.

I walk down Stoke Newington Highstreet past a plethora of drunks and kebab shops, a middle-aged man wobbling around with a half-filled pint glass an’ a baldcap stretched over his head, a cheap white T-shirt stretched over his paunch with scrawled writing from a black sharpie declaring: “JANE GOODY DIED FOR YOUR SINS”. He sees me blast by with my crucifix and blurts out at me to stop, I barge on as if I hadn’t heard him straight through the hens and past the smoking turks on the benches outside of the Queen of Lansdowne. I feel ill and not in the mood for any of this. I come up to Barden’s and it’s already starting to kick off, a line of skeletons in drainpipes are filing down the stairs. I hate those fucken stairs.

I swing a left before I hit the Rio and pull out my phone and call Q. I tell her to meet me in the street ‘cause we’re going to be late an’ I’m not going to drag my garbage can up the three floors to Wendy’s flat. I reach the house number and roll a cigarette, smoke waiting, looking at the clock on my phone every other drag or so. Four minutes pass and my thumb is on the send button to call her again when I hear something banging against the door and a slight whimper. The door creeks open and I’m met by the torso and head of an emaciated mannequin with rouge painted lips.

“Hey Raspy, how are you?” She chirps fresh faced and sober per usual. I stomp out my cigarette, I feel like vomiting.

“Doin’ good…great… Ya ready?”

“Yes   I    am. Just been playing with Bellona here.”

“Hey ya Bellona,” I quip to the mannequin torso being placed delicately into the trunk of the car. I throw the trash can and crucifix into the back seat and we get in the car and pull away.

“How’s the Misses?” she asks.

“Misses is good,” I say, “up north with the Ghosts.”

“O right, that makes sense, Halloween.”

“Yep, so ya know how to get to this place…” I ask her praying she does knowing that we’re running late.

“Sort of. It’s by London Bridge right?”

“I guess so. I have no idea. By Shunt or something.”

“Oh OK. What time are we on?”

“Well, we’re s’posed to be there by nine and get ready and be prepared to start walking around by ten or so.”

“What time is it now?”

“I don’t know, it’s uh, fuck man, it’s eight fifty. How long does it take to get there ya think?”

“O I don’t know… maybe half an hour… forty-five minutes? Will you roll me a fag please? There should be some blue Rizla’s in the pouch there…” she hums airily, floating on her own cloud, like a sun drenched California girl but with pasty skin and a slightly posh accent.

“Fuck. We shouldda left earlier.”

“Yeah… There’s filters in my purse here…”

“Fuck it,” I grunt. “We’ll be fine. We’ll make up some excuse. Are you pretty much ready to go once we’re there?”

“Not really. It takes me awhile to put Bellona on, and my makeup and wigs…”

“Ah fuck it,” I say, licking the glue on the paper before twisting it together and handing it to her.

“I’m gonna do my makeup right now. O shit! I got whiskey here too…”

It’s half past ten when we finally cut in front of the massive line of assorted fetishists and cybersluts, leashed tanned muscle heads and leggy formidable kinked out nurses. It doesn’t matter for a moment that it’s Halloween – everyone’s always dressed up here, you can’t even get in if you’re not pimped out to a T, which as of now, I’m not. I push my way through dragging my now squeaking dolly, Q is right behind me with her torso and bag. She’s never been here before and I see worry lines squiggling like thin worms throughout her face. The people in the line are complaining that we’re cutting in front, saying that we look like ‘wankers’ and whatnot, I ignore them scowling and barge on through. A short stocky bouncer with a cueball head grabs me hard on the shoulder and pushes me back a few steps.

“Where you think yer goin’ mate? Huh? Whats the hurry here? There’s a whole queue waiting…”

“I’m performing tonight” I jut in to his visible chagrin,“We’re performing and we’re running a bit late I just got to get in there quick and…”

He looks me up and down then at my face scrawled with choppily applied base and one shade of cheap greasy crimson lipstick smeared on my lips and cheeks and below my eyes.

“Hey mate I don’t care. You can’t just run into here like that. Ya gotta have some manners and patience. It’s all ‘bout the respect ‘innit?” he says with a cocky cockney accent shit smiling at me like he’s a big man. Fucken Napoleons. I take a breath and smile.

“Sorry mate. Sorry ‘bout that. Just in a bit of rush is all. My name is Rasp Thorne and this here is Q. We’re on the list. All right?”

He stands back like he’s taught me the lesson of the fucken century and me an’ Q rush in. We grab our wrist bands from the front-of-house girl who sees me in my street clothes and kindergarten make-up and checks with her friend to see if I’m really meant to be performing. Fucken fetish fascists. She sneeringly slides me the wristbands through the window. We grab our things and head towards security. It’s then I remember that I haven’t properly stashed the whiskey, it’s right near the top, right next to the blue plastic bag that the rabbit is wrapped in. Fuck.

I quickly tromp through the metal detector with my head down, trying to conceal the the dolly being pulled behind me. A huge security guard with bad aftershave and a cyborg earplug rushes up and says that he needs to search through the “bin.” I show him my performer’s wristband and tell him that I working, that I’m an art-eest, that I have to go right now. He won’t budge and he reaches down and starts trying to undo a bungee chord, I keep on trying to walk but he jerks it back angrily. Luckily Doreen sees me and rushes up and tells the security guard that it’s OK, that I’m working. He lets go and turns away tapping his cyborg ear and acting as if he just received a message from INTERPOL.

“Follow me,” she says tersely as she leads us through the sparse crowd of early comers back to the green room. “You’re late.”

“I know,” I say, sliding into my repertoire, “Sorry ‘bout that, the fucken traffic was terrible and I had to pick up my crucifix an’…” She walks us through a strobe lit corridor where there are three muscle bound men wearing butcher frocks and rubber pig masks, each one is standing behind his own little counter busily hacking up red meat with cleavers and hanging it onto meathooks. It smells awful. We reach the end and pass through the dungeon and cage room and more cyborg bored security guards until we’re finally led into the green room which is nothing more than a concrete storage space with a few mirrors and a ratty couch in it. There are kegs of beer lining the wall. An assorted gang of slashed stripper corpses and fully suited blow-up dolls with donut hole mouths are milling about.

“Here are your drink tickets,” she says handing me and Q exactly three each. “You’re performing out by the entrance of the cabaret room, straight back through the pig corridor, past the chapel and right there on the corner. There’s a little raised go-go stage. Just do walkaround for awhile and end up there. Two hours then you’re done. You’re supposed to be out there already, before it gets too crammed.”

“I know, I’m sorry, parking took forever an’ this fucken crucifix….”

She doesn’t waste the time to roll her eyes, just turns and rushes out muttering something into her walky-talky. Me and Q get changed quickly. I already have my fishnets on under my pants so I just pull on the silver sparkled g-string I got in Primark in Blackpool and lace up my brand new fetish boots thinking to myself: “don’t break these ones, don’t do it, the heels always fucken break, just take it easy.” With a shoestring I tie up my leather vest, attach the noose to the top of the crucifix and smear some more lipstick and eyeshadow onto my face. I strap the jawless goathead on top of my head so that the top row of teeth are just above my line of vision. There’s little dixie cups full of stage blood that the corpses are pouring all over their tits and cunts and thighs, I grab one and pour it down my chin and neck.

“You ready? We gotta get out there. She’s a bit pissed off.”

“Almost, would you do me up really quick?”

I go behind her and grab the strings that come off the mannequin torso and tie it tightly at the small of her back. She’s naked beneath it except for an apron that helps disguise the mannequin from her torso.

“Free blood,” I say holding a cup out to her. She dips her fingers into it cup and smears it under her eyes and across her mouth.

“Alright. Let’s do this shit and get outta here, I’ve got to get back to Dalston.”

I pull out the skinned rabbit I got from the butcher next to Off-Broadway and put it in the noose hanging off the crucifix. I snug the noose tight beneath its arms so they are spread outward with the head bobbing up and down. It’s mostly thawed out by now but it’s still a bit stiff and chilly. The butcher cut the floppy ears off so it looks remarkably like a cat, long, lean and muscly except with a pointed snout of sharp teeth at the end of its elongated head.

We head out into the growing crowd of awkwardly strutting sissyboys and SS clad men grave and chiseled with straight razor shorn faces, fully clad gimps jerked around on dog leads,  japanese dollies in breastless PVC catsuits, trojan warriors, asphyxiated ponies, a man in a bear suit with an enormous erection flopping about in the air. I always find it funny performing at Torture Garden, like I’m always there to out-freak the freaks which seems like it’d be hard to do especially in a ragtag outfit that I use for all my SPAR HORNET gigs which pales in comparison to what most of them are bound in but then again I do have a staplegun and a bad attitude, a skinned lynched rabbit on the end of my crucifix and a trash can full of nails, porn, a hammer and chains not to mention the poppers and a whole pint of whiskey just waiting to be picked up and played with…

By the time we leave two hours later the whiskey’s long gone, there’s a large goosebump on the right side of my head and you probably couldn’t tell from all the fake blood but my chest is bleeding and covered in tiny punctures. But at least my motherfucken heels didn’t break. Q is exhausted and doesn’t have the patience to even try to use the drink tickets. She doesn’t like it here an’ I can’t blame her, the club is swarmed, at capacity, and we couldn’t even take a break much less make it off our stage to walkaround. We just tromped and crawled around in our area, muckin’ about spitting whiskey an’ brimstone and posing in whatever tableau vivants came into our heads. I accidentally hit some top in the head with the lid of the trash can that I was swingin’ around on a chain but he was musclebound and tan in skimpy plastic bondage gear with a bunch of his butt boys and wanted to look tough so he just laughed at me and flexed his pecs like the Hulk and kept on walking by. Learnt that most freaks, even the hardcore ones, tend to turn into squirmin’ babies when confronted with a skinned creature. I saw some of them pointing at me while complaining to the producer of the club who always books me, but he doesn’t give a fuck. He loves it. I think.
I split the cash with Q and not wanting to wait to find the car or get lost driving back I decide to grab a cab from one of the dark eyed men who hang around the back alley ogling the smokers forced outside in their dungeon garb and lingerie. I tell the driver to: “take me to Barden’s Boudoir, Dalston Lane I think, Dalston Lane or Stoke Newington Road… What?….I don’ know man, fuck, you’re the driver, yeah, close to the butcher strip, yeah yeah over by the Rio but a lil’ further than that…” As he drove off from the club I could see him darting his eyes up to the rearview mirrors an’ looking at all of that finely clad pussy turning into blurry black dots behind him. When I’d approached the cab he was goggle eyed and grinning maniacally and didn’t even ask me where I was going until me and my trash can and crucifix were fully inside the cab. It was only when I told him where to go that he realized that I wasn’t a tipsy trashily clad woman but in fact a very drunken dude in stripper boots who was bleeding and coughing and in a terrible rush who keeps on yelling at him to change the radio station. Poor guy. I kinda feel for him, I’d prefer a sexy little damaged thing in the back of my car too, I decide to stop being so pushy and try to connect, I fish through my vest and find the little bottle of Liquid Gold and unscrew the cap and inhale deeply, I groan quietly and lean forward clutching myself again, after the rush subsides I feel nice and loose I look up and ask him his name. “Mohammed” he utters gruffly barely above his breath.

“Where’re ya from?”


“Ahh Pak-i-stan! Cool! That’s grrrrr-eat! N-never been dere ‘fore myself. ‘Sit nice there? – Yeah? – Hot I bet, right, really fucken hot I fucken hate the heat myself I do, yeah, too much, ya know ‘Nahlins too fucken hot by June and when its July jus’ forget about it, yeah wait, is ‘at it, no, yeah it’s comin’ up, no n-n-not there yeah ya can stop yeah, right here, no, n-no right here yes, YES SIR! R-r-right behind that b-blue car there!” I say cramming a twenty pound note through the change slot. I’m owed a pound forty something back but he doesn’t even do me the courtesy of pretending to hand it back, he just pockets it and avoids looking at me as I open the door and struggle in my heels to pull the dolly out. I slam the door shut and drunkenly blow him a kiss.

“Hasta la pasta Mohammed!” I say and lurch into the street clipping the mirror of a swerving cab with one of the arms of the crucifix. I run across the road as fast as my heels will carry me not looking back to see if it stopped.

I get to the entrance of Barden’s and it’s swarmed outside with smoking hipsters garbed in various demonic and witchy array. I battle my way through them, leading with the goathead, my hasidic rockstar jacket hangs open like a robe flashing my glitter g-string. I get a few looks from the cooler-than-thous, this isn’t TG after all, but I’m way past the point of giving a fuck and I grunt and snarl and curse my way in. I reach the top of the stairs and start the descent, again pushing past the punters who are butt-to-nut on the left side waiting to get in allowing a small passage on the right for the smokers to get out. The bouncer, some massive Jamaican in a black suit, is already pissed at me for interrupting the flow of traffic and asks what I’m doing. I tell him I’m performing that I am an art-eest. He asks my name, I say Rasp Thorne he calls over to the drunken goth door girl who I vaguely know and yells: “You got Ralph Torn on dee list. Ralph Torn!”

She sees me and sloppily waves me in. I push past him and he grabs the dolly..

“What’s in dee bin!” he demands.

“O nothin’, nothin’ at all man, jus’ props an’ porno ya know…for dee show-” I mutter off-handedly, sick of it all an’ in need of a drink or wake up juice or a good slap in the face.

“Let me see! Open it up!” he yells, grabbing the dolly from me. I realize that there’s no whiskey left to left to hide.

“Go for it bro…” I say, smiling at the prospect of seeing his reaction. He pries the lid off and is met by a nasty beaver shot of a big-ass black bent over mama. He gazes at it vacantly at first then I see his eyes smolder over with rage. He glares up at me.

“What dee fuck is dis!”

“I thinks that’s a Lonely Housewife b-b-but could be a Assman lady, hard to t-tell without…”

He juts his hand deeper in and pulls up the blue plastic bag.

“What dis!” he yells with a dash of excitement mixed into his anger, creaming his pants as if he’s found some contraband.

“What you got here!”

He plunges his hand into it and pulls out the skinned rabbit which is now covered in glitter and whiskey and God knows what, his arms limp and broken, the tongue danglin’ between his bashed teeth.

“What dee fuck!” he yelps in a high tone, wincing and droppin’ it back into the trash can.

“Well, its a skinned r-r-rabbit, ya know, like dee Easter Bunny…”

“O there you are! Smashing! I d-didn’t think yer were g-gonna m-make it!” Orion shouts into my face.

“Here g-grab yer yer bin an’ put it backstage.”

I grab the lid and put it back on top of the “bin.” The bouncer is looking at his slimy hand and is shaking his head a little too slowly for me to dare say anything else to him.

“Let him be drunk boy, let him be,” I think to myself.

I go backstage and there’s some burlesque chick putting on titty-tape who looks up at me appalled that I should have the audacity to walk in on her.

“Hey, I’m Ralph,” I grin, leering at her. “Don’t worry, I’m an art-teest too.” I flash her my fishnet leg and boots, suddenly I’m gay and everything is fine. You might think I’m gay baby but you got no idea… I think to myself. I ditch the trash can and go back out to the bar which is way too busy, about three people deep. I push through and fish around in my pocket and give the bartender one of my drink tickets.

“What’s this for?” he asks.

“I don’t care, a cider or a pint of Kronenbourg.” I say.

“No, this isn’t good here, this is for…”

“It’s a fucken drink ticket! Jus’ give me whatever I don’ care. Give me a fucken Budvar or somethin, I don’t know.”

He gives it back to me and asks some guy standing next to me for his order. I’m about to get irate when Orion grabs me.

“Hey, you uh r-ready to go?” he says.

“What, right fucken now?”

“Yeah man, it’s t-time to go. Yer al-already l-late but it’s all right ‘cause everything is a b-bit late tonight.”

“They won’t take my fucken drink tickets here…”

“Wh-what drink tickets? I haven’t g-given ya any yet.”

“Then wh-what the fuck are these r-r-right here!” I say pulling out my drink tickets.

“Those are from, wh-what does it say, SE-One…”

“O. I see. That makes p-perfect sense now…” I say dropping the tickets to the floor.

“Are you all right,” Orion asks a tinge of skepticism intruding his already shaky voice, unsure if I can pull off a show.

“I’m fucken great,” I say and cough and clap my hands trying to invigorate myself, “Let’s do this shit man… Ya got any wake up juice on ya? C’mon, I know ya do…”

“Yeah, al-allright, let’s d-do it quick, yer on in two songs.”


We wrestle through the crowd and go backstage. The burlesque chick is gluing on long eyelashes.

“Hey Orion and…”

“Ralph…” I say.

“Rasp,” Orion says.

“Yeah whatever. Let’s do it.” Orion pours out a decent sized little mound of whitish-yellowish coke. It doesn’t look like much but theres gotta be something in it for he’s already stuttering more than usual and he’s got the jaw jitters.

“There, do it all,” he says, handing me a cut off straw that looks like it’s from either KFC or Burger King. I do it all in a sniff. It stings like a bitch but does something. My head clears to a lesser fog and a song ends. The burlesque chick is either livid or terrified.

“You’re on after this next record. Did you give DJ Rizzo yer CD yet?”

Fuck. Did I bring it? Did I forget again? I shove my hand deep into the trash can and fish around through the assorted mess. I pull up nothing except a handful of porn and a sticky nail.

“Fuck!” I yell. Orion’s not happy.

“W-well, can ya d-do it to somethin’ else? Fuck man…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, d-don’ don’ worry, jus’ uh, p-p-put on a, ah don’ fucken, p-put on Lust for Life or R-r-r-rock an’ Roll Nigger or somethin’. Cramps works too,” I say, suddenly very awake from the blow and shock of not having my music.

“All right. Ar-are you r-ready?”

“Yep. Uh, jus’ p-put the trash can in the c-center of the s-stage for me.”

“You m-mean the bin?”

“No, not the bin, my fucken trash can….”

“All right.” he says and leaves with can.

Human Fly comes on and I know that doesn’t give me a helluva lot of time. I gaze up reluctantly into the mirror and I’m met by a rancid creature. Glitter and bruises, base and blood. Fuck it. Fuck it all.

“Are you OK Ralph.” Miss Tits asks me, condescendingly concerned in her showgirl sequins and sobriety. God she’s got a great ass, crimson garter-belt to boot.

“No. Ahm’ not. Ahm’ definitely not f-fucken OK.” I spit at her. Lust for Life thuds on and I hump the crucifix onto my shoulder and charge goathead first out of the dressing room through the crowd and hurl myself onto the stage.

As I limp (a heel broke) back into the green room about four or so minutes later I’ve got a painted lady stapled to each side of my chest and I can’t stop spitting and dry heaving. The rabbit had spun out of the noose into the crowd towards the end of the song when I’s swinging it around like a lasso and as I was taking my pseudo-bow on my knees someone threw it back at me and like a rabid dog playing catch I snatched it in mid-air with my teeth. I surprised myself with that one, it was like a feral instinct but as I left the stage with it still clenched in my teeth I thought of where it’d been that night and how it tasted and spit it out puking a bit in my mouth before swallowing it back down.

Miss Tits is still in there and she recoils at the sight of me and realizes that maybe she doesn’t need to actually apply a fifth layer of lipstick or re-dot her beauty marks, that it might be a better idea if she traded the precious calm of the green room for the horde of rowdy punters outside. She’s glancing at me through the mirror, darting her now elongated eyelashes down each time I meet them. I slump into a chair and start peeling away the porn and extracting the staples out of my chest, that’s the worst part, when they come out. The right side of my chest is fine and only trickling a few drops of blood but on the left breast over my tattoo I’ve got a mild gusher that isn’t quite clotting.

“Ya gotta b-baby wipe?” I ask her begrudgingly. She opens up a compartment in her makeup kit and hands me a pack of facial wipes.

“Thanks.” I say as I start dabbing.

“Why do you do that?” she says in very high and curt tone.

“Do what?”

“That!” she exclaims pointing to one of the pictures I peeled off which I notice for the first time is a Barely Legal girl with a cock crammed in her mouth, there’s a staple stuck through her lip and the shaft as if joining them together, a tiny circle of red surrounds it. It makes me a bit sick. I look up at the starlet and drop my attitude, lost for words.

“I donna. I r-r-really…don’t…know. I jus’ do it for some reason.” I grab the picture and crumple it up.

“What’s yer name anyways?” I ask her.

“Sasha.” she says and I detect a slight Russian or possibly Polish lilt for the first time.

“Miss Sasha Sashay.”

“Howdy. Nice to meet you. Thanks for the wipes.” I say. Orion comes in with my trash can and crucifix.

“Be-jaysus! That was fucken twisted! How’d that r-r-rabbit taste?” he says.

“G-great.” I say, retching again at the thought of it. “Can I g-get some fucken dr-drink tickets now? Ya have any vodka or whiskey b-back here that I can pour on m-m-my chest ya see it helps to d-disinfect…”

It’s past four when a motley pack of us stagger up the stairs of Barden’s and head across the street to where Orion lives. I realized in the dressing room that in my rush I’d left my normal clothes in the green room at Torture Garden and now I’m stuck in these fucken painful torn fishnets and ridiculous chintzy g-string. I’m sick of this shit. This fishnet thing has gotta stop, it’s not like I’m a fucken tranny anyways. I’m also, besides the tights, barefoot, the broken heel having proved too much to deal with after all. The idea is to drop my trash can off at Orion’s, see if he’s got any clothes I can borrow, do a line or two then jump in a cab and go to the lock-in at The Stags Head. We trudge all the way up his stairs, call a cab, cut up a few lines and the cab calls back directly and is already waiting for us downstairs before Orion gets a chance to look for some pants or boots that I can wear.

“Ah f-fuck it m-man, it’s Halloween, ya-you’ll be fine, ev’ryone’s dr-dressed up.”

“Yer na-na-na-not even fucken even dr-drressed up ya fucker, yer b-barely jus’ have yer fucken eyeliner shit on…”

“Well n-n-no, b-but everyone else is, so uh, l-let’s go…” He says gumming the bag we just finished.

“Jeshusfuckenchristtits…all right then, fuck it fuck it all let’s jus’ go let’s jus’…”

By the time the cab finally rolls up in front of The Stag’s Head I’m seeing triple despite the blow. I jump out of the cab and run up to the door which is locked and start pounding on it like a caveman. Orion whisper-shouts: “Sh-shut up Rasp! Ch-chill out, they’re coming!” as he gets out of the cab with his cellphone clutched to his ear. The door creeks open and there stands a skeletal Max peeping through the crack as if he is the guardian to some Dalston Black Mass. He checks that it’s just our little crew before opening it fully and letting us in. It’s completely dead silent inside, no music or voices, no bartender, but there’s a heavy haze of cigarette smoke saturating the air. The door shuts and is bolted then as a switch was flipped the music blasts on and a throng of people in various degrees of costume dress and undress appear out of the back room where they were hiding. We go the bar and a pint of cider is placed in front of me along with a huge shot of Jamesons. Shot glasses tink and the whiskey goes and I don’t know much anymore. It’s all just drunken snippets, the flashes, the terrors, The Pogues are playing and a girl shrieks out cigarette smoke which looks like her soul departing, I’m doing a jig on the bar and feel something neath my foot then I’m falling backward and there’s blackness before I’m pounding on a piano and being battered on the head by some sloppy bitch screaming in my ear to “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”, long lines of coke on top of a sordid toilet lid and someone yelling at me to put the “FUCKEN CUE DOWN AN’ LEAVE IT!” more whiskey, the emergence of cigars, a red satin devil swinging on the pooltable light, another toilet, swirls, a bright bathtub, laughter, a tin of beer exploding foam, the contemplation of gravity and then there’s Shane McGowan again singing, screaming, blurting like a warthog curses and prayers into the darkness.I wake up on Orion’s couch with a large pot placed on the ground near my head. It’s still empty save for some dried linguini caked on the sides which probably means I had a good puking session before completely passing out. I miss my wife. Two more days. Goddamnit it all. The sun is white and hideous and the speakers are still pouring forth The Pogues. I feel remarkably clear in my head and can tell by my noxious exhales that I’m still drunk, my tongue is an evil thing, wretched and reeking and dry, it tastes of cigarette butts an’ that sickly sweet taste of vomit. I bolt up from the couch and go to the bathroom and squeeze a long line of Colgate into my mouth, cut it with a sip of water and sit down on the toilet, swishing, averting my eyes from the dirty kitty litter box to the mini stuffed rabbit perched on top of the medicine cabinet viciously peering down, as if judging me. I finish pissing and spit the toothpaste into the bowl, toe-tap the handle, watch the water spiral, my head following it’s movement like a springheaded doll. I go back out to the living room and start surveying the wreckage. There’s a gnawed upon donut stuck onto a devil’s horn on the wicker chair, a smeared vanity mirror with tongue lick traces running up and down and all around it, seven empty bottles of Teachers most with cigarettes staining the bottoms rusty black, a dozen or so red wine bottles, a few white, tins of beer and cider splattered all about and overflowing from the “bin”. The “bin”, the “bin”, that rings a bell, that means something…fuck.

I scramble back into the hall that leads to the bathroom and start looking around, franticly sifting through all the junk piled up for my trash can. I know I’d brought it up after Barden’s ‘cause I remember how much of a bitch it was getting it up the stairs but the question is did I bring it to The Stags Head? Why would I? I can’t see it. It aint there. It’s simply gone. Again. Again and again. All my props and makeup, my staplegun, my goathead- gone. This happens a lot and I’m fucken sick of it. I start to slip into the self-hatred slump telling myself I have to stop drinking so fucken much that I’m just wasting my fucken life pissing it away like I’ve done ever since I’s twelve. I go in the kitchen and fish through the mini-fridge for a hidden beer. Luckily I find one, well, a cider, Strongbow at that, stashed way in the back behind ginger beer and what looks like the remnants of a kebab. I crack it open and it must of awoken Orion for I can here shuffling and knocking about in his loft bed above me. He comes down his ladder, disheveled and groaning, still in his drainpipes and wife-beater. His eyes are squinting like little white pin dots lost in a nightmare of black grease paint and mascara. He sees me standing there dejected in the kitchen grasping the cider in my hand.

“Are there any more of those lying around?” he asks in a fragile voice while he straighten’s out his libertine mustache.

I just shake my head and take a deep swig and hand it to him. He doesn’t ask why I’m pissed off, probably can barely see me in the first place. I go back to the couch and turn up the music before turning it down quick because I hear a woman let out a shrill scream. I hear the front door slam and Rabbit, Orion’s roommate stomps into the kitchen.

“What the fuck is that doing out there! What the fuck is it!” she screams at Orion standing there with the can clutched in his hand. We look at her silently, both of us not ready for the wrath of Rabbit. She’s as hungover and ragged as we are dressed in the remnants of what I gather was a horny unicorn.

“Is that my last fucking Strongbow too!” she rages. Orion offers it to her but she doesn’t take it. He finally stutters out loud:

“W-what thing are you talking about? Where?”

She stomps out back towards the door and throws it open.

“This is what I’m fucking talking about! This fucking bin in the fucking hallway an’ whatever is fucking in it is fucking disgusting!”

I get up and we go out to the hallway and sure enough there it is, strapped to the dolly right in front of the door.

“Fuck yeah!” I say, “It’s still here!”

“What the fuck is in there Rasp!” Rabbit snarls.

“What?” I say stooping down and taking off the lid with a flourish. An acrid odor of rot an’ blood pours up outta the trash can and into my face and throughout the hall, I look down and there are already tiny maggots going to work on the eyes and extremities of the skinned and pulverized rabbit that’s laying there on top wrapped in the cunts and titties of whats left of the shredded porno mags.

“WHAT – IS – THAT!” she screams, recoiling from the stench. I slam the lid back onto it and close my eyes for a moment trying not to vomit again. My stomach settles and I secure the lid with a bungee chord before standing up and sheepishly looking at her.

“Well Rabbit, it’s a… it’s uh… a rabbit. I’s uh usin’ it last n in uh for a gig…” I try to contain the smile but I’m still drunk and I can’t and Orion laughs and turns away and I fall apart and the laughter echoes throughout the high stairwell. Rabbit blazes her eyes and turns from us and stomps back into the flat and slams her door. We go back inside unsuccessfully trying to stifle ourselves, leaving the trash can in the hallway. I go and quickly pull on my boots, the broken one is barely worth even putting on but I do anyways. I’m still in the awful fishnets and g-string but I’d rather just get out of here now then to ask Orion to find some dirty “trousers”, my hasidic jacket almost stretches to my boots anyways so ya can’t real see ‘em, just my shattered fetish boots. Orion is also stealthily pulling on layers of clothing and his jacket.

“Pub?” he asks as if it were actually a question.

“Yepper. Coach & Horses?”

“Naw, The Rochester. Two pounds a pint, can smoke in the back too.”

I grab the Strongbow that was left on the counter and drain it, wince. He pulls on his leather and we run out the door, me grabbing the trash can and humping it down the three flights of stairs. We get outside and the November air hit’s my legs and face like the wake up slap I was yearning for last night. As we trudge along the litter strewn pavement I can’t help but think I’ve forgotten something.  I know my clothes are at TG most likely never to be seen again but still something feels amiss. I’m racking my rent brain ’til I reach the bench outside the pub where I passed the fat Jane Goody lookalike.

“Fuck!” I scream, stopping in my tracks and staring down at the ground.

“What? W-what’s goin’ on now? C’mon, it’s fucken freezing man, let’s go.”

“Fuck it.” I say, resuming my limping gait. “What time does Barden’s open. I’ve gotta swing by and pick up my crucifix.”

Locations in London

The Moustache Bar
58 Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 7XB, United Kingdom


Barden’s Boudoir
38-44 Stoke Newington Road
N16 7XJ

-Now Closed-

Rio Cinema
107 Kingsland High Street
London E8 2PB, United Kingdom
020 7241 9410


20 Stainer Street
London SE1 9RL, United Kingdom

020 7378 7776

41-43 St. Thomas Street
London SE1 3QX, United Kingdom

-Now Closed-

Torture Garden

Off Broadway
63-65 Broadway Market
London E8 4PH, United Kingdom

020 7241 2786

The Stag’s Head
55 Orsman Road
London N1 5RA, United Kingdom

Now Closed

The Coach & Horses
178 Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 7JL, United Kingdom

020 7254 6697
Google Maps

The Rochester
145 Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 0NY, United Kingdom

020 7249 6016
Google Maps

Cabaret Embassy (Casablanca, Morocco)

The Things They Never Knew

By Bobby Rich

Photos by Sarrah Danziger

It was late for the hotel and everyone was asleep except the American couple who sat sharing shots of whiskey and anisee on their bed. The paint on their walls was chipping off and the florescent light-bulb overhead had no shade and was suspended from the ceiling only by the electric wires that powered it. The room had a small window at the far side of it that looked onto the terrace, which had no street view because rooms were built around it. To have any type of natural light in their room, one would have to open the door, and even then it was not direct. The American couple kept taking shot after shot from their small glass cups that were normally used by Moroccans for tea and coffee. Sam kept on the bottle of anisee, holding up her cup to the electric light as she poured in the water. And Richard held the bottle of whiskey in one hand and his cup in the other since he didn’t take much time between shots, unless he was ready for a cigarette. They were quiet for the most part, looking at the floor or the ugly wall ahead, and then Richard said:

“Do you want to go out tonight? It is your last night in Morocco and Casablanca is supposed to be a party town.”

“Is it supposed to be?” she said mockingly.

“Well, that’s what I hear. Plus you saw the gay couple romantically kissing and walking hand in hand at the Hassan Two Mosque today. That was a first in Morocco! The people must be less repressed here.”

“I mean, where exactly would you want to go?”

“You know as much as I do about this town. I don’t know, we’ll take out the motorcycle and see what we find.”

“The patron is going to hate us. She already told us the curfew is midnight.”

“That’s nothing ten dirham can’t fix.”

The motorcycle was silver and reflected the night sky wonderfully. Richard had bought it from a friend of his in Marrakech, and he planned to sell it before he left the country. It had fifteen hundred original miles on it which Sam and him had put on together, but after tomorrow how ever many more miles the bike would accumulate would be put on only by Richard. He pushed the bike to the middle of the plaza away from the entrance of the Hotel des Amis, kick-started it, and then said: “I love these women here! I told you that curfew was nothing a small bribe couldn’t change. To think, we’re only paying an equivalent of three-fifty each to stay here. The Western world has it all wrong, Sam. Whoever started charging eighty bucks for a hotel room a night in America was a fucking crook!”

Sam didn’t say anything.

As they drove through the winding alleys of the medina, Sam held on tight to Richard. It is possible that she did this because she was cold, but it was the look on her face which made one think she was doing this to savor her last feelings of love for this man. Her eyes were closed, her lips were slightly parted with the faint hint of a smile, and she pressed her cheek warmly against his back. Sometimes Richard could have sworn that he heard her sigh, and at other times it seemed that she was rubbing herself against him. If she was he didn’t want to know, not because he wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening but because he knew if he talked about it he would ruin the moment for her. So he continued to drive looking straight ahead, driving faster and faster as he felt her wriggling behind him. They were now outside of the medina going down the Atlantic Coast, and he tried not to pay attention to anything but the road. And when he finally heard her let out a subtle moan and loosen her grip, he slowed down the bike for the first time, turned around, and started toward Boulevard Mohammed el Hansali and Boulevard Mohammed V, which was outside the medina. He didn’t know of any clubs there, but he had seen many flashing lights when they drove past ten minutes previous and thought it would be a good place to look.

They drove down Mohammed V and decided they would go to the first club they saw. Richard seemed to not only be physically drunk but mentally drunk as well. Any time he stopped at a red light, which only was when certain death seemed inevitable, he would rev his engine until the light turned green. And when it did he would kick his bike into first and speed away even faster than the crazy Moroccan drivers. Sam told him to slow down, but he couldn’t get a hold of himself. And when he saw the first club with flashing lights he swerved into oncoming traffic, squeezed between the moving cars and the parked ones, rode up onto the sidewalk, somehow managed to stop the bike smoothly, and then jumped off it with his keys in hand before Sam could even scream from fright. Sam did not seem impressed.

The club had a cover charge of fifty dirham, which is an equivalent to five Euros, and this seemed a bit pricey to the couple. “Do you mind if I go take a look?” asked Richard. The door man let him in and Sam stood outside looking at the sign above the doorman which read: CABARET EMBASSY. She thought this club was located in a strange place. It was right next to a Kentucky Fried Chicken. She was also surprised by the fact that she hadn’t noticed it before, because it was right behind the Cafe de France, which is the most noticeable cafe outside the medina. But, of course, this club was always closed during the day and looked like a little hole-in-the-wall joint even now when it was open. The couple had walked by it many times and had never taken a second glance at it.

Richard came back and said, “This place is wild. We should go in.”

“I don’t really have fifty dirham to spend. I only have thirty now, and I’ll need it for food before I go to the airport tomorrow. I’ll walk home and see you when you get back.”

“No, you can’t do that. You’ll disturb the patron! Since it’s your last night I’ll pay for it. And really, the cover isn’t bad and plus it comes with a drink.”

They walked to the doorman and Richard handed him the hundred, and then the couple walked down the stairs into the basement, split apart a black, velvet curtain and heard a blast of electric sound. “Isn’t this great!” Sam looked over the crowd. Everybody had their arms up in the air dancing in a way she hadn’t seen before. There were women everywhere wearing short little dresses and smoking hookah with the men at their tables, and they were drinking beer too. This was the first time Sam had seen this kind of female behavior in Morocco, and she figured Richard must have been correct when he said people were less repressed in Casa. “What do you want to drink?”

Sam said, “A whiskey.”

“You go get a table and I’ll be right back.”

Richard found Sam over in the corner and laid a whiskey in front of her. She took a sip and said thank you. She looked over the scene again with a crooked kind of smile. Richard had taken note of what the other men were doing and started to dance the way they were. It seemed to be natural with the kind of music he was hearing. Sam started watching him and then snapped out of the trance she was in. “Those guys over there…” She pointed to the next table, “are New Yorkers. They introduced themselves to me when I sat down.”

Richard looked at the stage. Everybody seemed incredibly drunk to him. The men were getting on stage and dancing with the fat women singers with their arms in the air and shaking their bodies like worms. Richard thought they looked possessed. He didn’t know what was going on or what he was hearing, so he leaned over on the banquet toward the next table and started conversation.

Salam alaikum.”

“Alaikum salam,” Said one man from the group of five who sat closest to Richard.

“Hey, my girlfriend over here says you are from New York.”

“Yeah, we’ve all been living in New York for twenty years. Where’re you two from?”

“We’re from New York too. Bushwick area. Where you from?”


“Nice. Yeah, me and my friends like to go there. Play some backgammon, smoke some hookah. We actually almost lived in Astoria once.”

Sam chimed in: “We didn’t almost live there. Honestly this place was uninhabitable,” Sam said to the other man. “It was a basement in someone’s laundry room. It was a railroad apartment in a dungeon. We could see this beautiful backyard but the door was sealed with cement; and only the people upstairs could use it. It wasn’t fit for human beings! You’d have to pay me to live there.”

“Well, it was nine hundred a month for a two bedroom,” Richard said to the man. “I would have lived there.”

“Two bedroom?” said Sam scornfully. “One room was a hallway, and the other was a closet you couldn’t even stand up in.”

“Anyway, I would have lived there,” Richard reiterated. “How long are you in town for?”

“We’re going to stay for a couple months, visit the family, you know?”

“Cool, live it up for a bit, eh? Is this a club you come to often?”

“Naw, it’s our friend’s birthday.” He pointed to one in his group. He blew out some smoke from a hookah and then said, “you want some?”.

“Yeah,” said Richard.

“We like to come here for a couple months every year. Come back to the homeland. How long are you two staying for?”

“We’ve been in Morocco for a month. Sam is leaving tomorrow, but I’m here for a while longer. Say, what’s the name of this music?”

“It’s called Chaabi. It means popular, but It’s country and  mountain music.”

Sam hadn’t been listening to them. She was surveying the crowd again, and then some kind of greater understanding occurred and she pulled at Richard’s sleeve.

“What is it?”

“Ask him if these women are prostitutes. I keep seeing them go from table to table.”

“You think all of these women are prostitutes?” Richard looked around the room with a new pair of eyes. Why were they all wearing these trashy looking, sequin sparkling mini-dresses? Why had they all applied such heavy make-up? And yes, why were they jumping from table to table, talking to almost every man in the bar?

Richard leaned over toward the man. “Wait, are all these women prostitutes?”

The man didn’t even look around. “Yes, every woman who is in this club is a prostitute.”


Sam pulled Richard’s sleeve again. “Ask him how much they are.”

“Hey, man.” Richard handed him back the hookah. “How much are one of these girls?”

“Why, you want one?” He laughed.

“She wants to know.” And Richard looked over at Sam.

“Damn, you get down like that?”

“Naw, she’s just curious.”

“Well, for me they are about three hundred. For you, probably about six hundred, all night. They have different prices for foreigners.”

“All night, eh?” said Richard curiously. “Wait.” He leaned over to Sam. “He says they cost three hundred for him; six hundred for us.” Richard leaned back over to the man. “Wait, so this is a normal practice?”

“Yeah, all over the place.”

“Would you say all women who go to bars are prostitutes?”

“I wouldn’t say one hundred percent, but probably about eighty percent are.”

“Crazy! I never knew that.” He went back over to Sam. “He says all of these women are definitely prostitutes, and about eighty percent of all women in bars are prostitutes.”

The couple polished off their whiskeys. “Wow,” said Sam. She looked all around. “This is amazing.” On stage nothing had changed. The blue Christmas lights were still flashing , drunken men were still dancing, but the women singers seemed to have forgotten they were singing and were now just drinking beers on the side. Sam pulled out her camera and started filming.

The man saw what Sam was doing and leaned toward Richard. “What is she doing?”

“We’re journalists. We write for a website that covers cultural music. We want to get some footage for an article.”

“You shouldn’t do that,” he said. “These people have families and, you know, different identities in the day.”

“Don’t worry,” said Richard. “Our audience is predominantly American. Everybody’s identity will be protected.”

The man seemed not to like this response, but he sat back in his seat and continued to smoke his hookah. Some prostitute had the demon running through her and went on a rampage, hopping from man to man, swinging her head in circles like a rocker. Sam quickly started to film her when she attacked one drunken soul who sat near them. The man from Queens looked over at the couple with little respect as Sam filmed the woman.

Sam said, “I’m having such a great time, and now I have to leave Morocco. I’m sad. I wish I could stay.”

Richard looked at the scene around him, the prostitute hopping onto another man, the crowd drunk and falling on the floor, the man next to them giving the evil eye, and then Richard said, “Trust me, I think it’s better this way.”

Locations In Casablanca

Hôtel des Amis
12 Rue Markazia
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps

Cabaret Embassy
2 Boulevard Mohammed V
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps

Cafe de France
Boulevard Mohammed V
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps

St. Nicks Pub (New York City, New York)

African Nights

By Richard Prins

Not that I wasn’t a Columbia student when I first came to St. Nick’s Pub in 2005; my Swahili professor had suggested the venue for its Africa Night every Saturday, and we made an outing of it, a couple students each from the intermediate and advanced classes. The novelty of socializing with my academic peers convinced me to forgo memorizing a speech I’d have to give in Albany the following afternoon.

I played the native New Yorker and directed our crew of aspiring white Africanists to 149th Street. I had already developed instinctive grudges against my freshman class for their collective reticence to cross 125th. These weren’t first-years; they actually spoke passable Swahili, enjambed entire sentences between our English conversation, and had visited East Africa and done more than ogle exotic animals. They had dreadlocks, and dashikis brighter than my tie-dye, which I also envied as we reached the bright red billboard ST NICK’S PUB and walked down the steps into a tiny narrow bar where instruments were being dragged on stage. Guitars, a bass, a saxophonist with a backwards Yankees hat; what exactly made this African, I wondered.

The waitress in the leopard-skin skirt made us aware of the two-dollar table charge (the complimentary barstools were all taken, and it didn’t occur to us to stand) as well as the two-drink minimum. I asked for coffee, thinking I could stay up all night to memorize my speech, but there was none, so I got a Guinness because I knew what it was. As an 18-year-old unfamiliar with bar etiquette, I didn’t tip. The guitarist’s arpeggios sounded like the Sahara; he sang in smiling tongues even we polyglots couldn’t speak. My colleague stood to dance; I knew soon I’d have to rise to this occasion. She demonstrated the popular dance style of every country she’d ever visited, finishing on our common interest, Tanzania, “Where it’s all in the hips,” and her own percolated. She was electric. Her thickest fuzzy dreadlock bitchslapped my face, and I made a mental note to figure out one day whether my hips were mobile. They were by the time I ran into her a couple years later at a tourist club in Dar es Salaam and chased her across the dance floor like a dying man might chase a pulse.

“I can’t dance like that.” I stood. “But I do a pretty decent hippie-on-acid impression.”

“Acid is for innocents!” she laughed as the keyboardist took a break to dance with her. I let myself be guided towards joy by a second beer and the hollow detonations of a talking drum wedged in an old man’s armpit, which he beat with a stick. What did it matter if I would be speechless tomorrow before a crowd of young activists? The night was coming to life, and my limbs and torso were exploring new rhythmic contortions. Musical guests cycled on and off stage. A Cuban came and blew a shining trumpet – his fedora looked so classy it’s a sin he wasn’t simultaneously smoking a cigar. The waitress recited a lush slam poem; a drunk squealed briefly on a clarinet but was politely ushered off stage. A bald man took over on vocals and sang a song that made us sit back down so we could brace ourselves for its griotic power. Years later I would recognize the song as “N’Toman,” by Salif Keita’s first Afropop supergroup, Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux, and still relish its buoyant refrain.

At 2am the musicians took a smoke break in the backyard patio; mindful of my 9am bus ride to Albany, I said I had to leave. Surprisingly enough, my colleagues wished to follow. It was snowing fluffily. I scooped an armful of it off a brownstone’s ledge and dumped it in her dreads on the way to the 1 train. That was the last time I ever snowed someone. I woke in the morning to a phone call from Albany – there was a blizzard, so I could keep on sleeping.

I only make the trip up to 149th Street a couple Saturdays a year, usually when I’m trying to show off the venue to new friends. I dance so hard they pull me on stage when they can’t find another willing male; I let saxophone solos pinprick my brain and gasp in wonderment; I empty my wallet tipping the band and downing overpriced sugary blonde ales; I wake up the next afternoon and can hardly walk to the kitchen for water because my hips are shaken raw; I fulminate with mirth and pride at everything I’ve acquired from my multiple trysts with the Motherland. An ability to sing along to lyrics whose meaning I don’t know. To greet the Senegalese patrons in Wolof, which has the best “hello” in the world: “Wow-wow!” Wolof’s also the etymological source for words like hip, dig, cool. I’ve put effort into my Africanness, dammit, and Africa Night is my reward. The spiritual nature of the experience becomes only more exquisite.

Exquisite isn’t always a good thing. Exquisite pain, for example. Exquisite disappointment. But I would prefer to experience something exquisite than not. To finger the jagged grain, as Ralph Ellison put it. Unfortunately, most people would prefer a pinch in the cheek to a slap in the face. And I hope they all get fucked in the ass by Lenny Kravitz.

Tonight I have to go there (in order to write this here article). It’s been almost a year (since I spent most of the year frequenting even wilder clubs in Tanzania) so I need a refresher. I was going to go with a fellow St. Nick’s enthusiast who I could sleep with afterwards, but she got invited out to Long Island for the weekend. The last time I went to St. Nick’s, I went alone; I had just extricated myself from a long-term relationship so I was cultivating solitude. I’m not anymore; a sweat-drenched dashiki already makes me conspicuous – I don’t also want to be conspicuously alone. I left a facebook status asking if anyone wanted to see some African music; everyone was either uninterested, or they thought I was inviting them on a no-expenses-paid trip to Dar es Salaam, because the only response I got was from a long-lost friend in Texas informing me that she hula-hoops at a drum circle every Wednesday. So I polish off some Jim Beam after brushing my teeth (bad idea) but before getting on the subway (good idea) and spend the trip listening to South African jazz and Maasai hip hop on my iPod, muttering to myself about how so goddamn many people are interested in African music, or intrigued by it, or feel generally positive and groovy towards it, but so few make any effort to know it. Other than the occasional dreadlocked drum circle or viewing of Fela! – The Musical. Not that both aren’t awesome, in their own way – but what does one really discover? One should see music as Vasco de Gama saw continents!… rape & pillage optional.

Try naming a historical character cooler than Frank Serpico. Sure, they exist, but it’s hard to top a hobo-looking, ballet-enthusiast cop who single-handedly exposed the extent of corruption in the 1970s NYPD and was nearly assassinated by his colleagues in retribution. There’s a reason for the non sequitur; he once said something that I would be remiss not to quote when writing about music. Al Pacino interviewed Serpico before portraying him in the 1973 film of his life, and one of his most pressing questions to the whistle-blower was, why did you do it? Why did you testify against police corruption when the entire NYPD had made it clear you would do so at risk of your life?

Serpico’s reply: “Well, Al, I don’t know. I guess I would have to say it would be because… if I didn’t, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?”

I like this notion that we are someone when we listen to music; that music acts as a reflective conscience by forcing us to confront our own humanity.

That’s pretentious; I could have just written, isn’t what Frank Serpico said just the most fucking beautiful thing you’ve ever heard? and left it at that.

But I want to know who you will be when you listen to a piece of music. Are you waiting for the spirit to feel you up? Is your untouchedness innocent or lonely, and when it writhes are you also an electric snake, and do you coil through your own spininess? Or shed your skin and flicker your tongue at tomorrow’s edge where each beat is a horizon? Or slither away from all the heroic acts you didn’t perform?

Important questions, these. And who am I each time I venture Uptown, sipping whiskeyed ice tea on the subway so I won’t have to buy too many of their drinks, so I won’t have to feel the letdown of sobriety as I enter the orgy of music, will only feel electricity crossing the diaspora between their instruments and my body? Who am I that Africa Night at St. Nick’s Pub is my favorite music in the city?

“No matter who you are, or where you come from, you are an African,” repeats the guitarist each time he dispatches the tip jar through the crowd – bills which will later be tossed one by one at the musicians. (One must always tip the griot directly. Why do the hunters always defeat the lions in the stories? I once heard asked. Because the lions aren’t the ones telling the stories.)

A text message arrives from a musician friend as the train is rolling over the Manhattan Bridge…  was goin’ on tonight? Probably saw my facebook post – he digs African music. He should dig St. Nick’s – who knows if I ever told him about the place. He should also dig God – he has a lot of spirit inside him, but won’t recognize it as Jesus. We tripped on 2C-E once in high school; he thought he had been poisoned and began calling everyone he knew so he could pin his death on me. Meanwhile I wandered into the bathroom to urinate and felt a supernaturally powerful orgasm rushing through my urethra; it knocked me back on the ground and piss rivulets dribbled in my pubic hair. If he hadn’t been so afraid, God could have touched his genitals too, I frequently remind him; he assures me that my peculiar religiosity is a symptom of schizophrenia, and the public usually takes his side in this ongoing argument.

He asks what the cover is, but the train’s crossed the bridge and entered the tunnel, so I have to get off at Grand to tell him it’s free (not mentioning the astronomical price of a beer) and get back on the next D.

And step into the narrowness and blinkering Christmas lights; the cackling in English, white French, black French, et al. No music yet at midnight, but every barstool and chair lining the wall is taken; the wall is festooned with a collage of photos – as if we’re in the bedroom of a 14-year-old girl who’s got the hots for Charlie Parker. No room to stand without my tote bag from Tanzania getting whacked by the waitress’s beer deliveries.

The only people who come here alone are African. You can walk into a pub posse-less in Africa and emerge with lifelong friends. I suppose it’s a theoretical possibility in America, but I don’t know anyone who makes a practice of it.

By 12:15 I’ve nervously sipped away the entirety of my Sugar Hill and only the percussionist is seated on stage. I would say TIA but that’s for honkie tourists. They put “No Woman No Cry” on the jukebox, which I find offensively obvious, though everyone else seems to enjoy it, and a group is singing along to the “Hey hey” in the chorus. A 21-stringed calabash is placed in front of the drumset, the kora-player rocking short, choppy dreads to contrast with the big lady bassist’s back-length tapestries.

Check my phone; no reply from my friend. Probably thought I was going to poison him again.

With a cascading clash of notes. The guitar & kora entangling like two lovers’ inner thighs. On their way to Harlem, they pass the nomadic pastures of the Tuareg and Peul, zig-zag through the heyday of the Mande Empire, raft down the Gambia River, make an unfortunate detour in Brazil for a bossa nova, land in the South and send everything they learn back home via a passenger pigeon nesting in James Brown’s hairdo.

A pierced-eared pansy is dancing better than me. Stiffer competition than usual in the white-boy-ass-shaking contest. Usually I’m the ringer, but that’s when I have girls with me that want to be hit on by the musicians. The chords become major when they sidestep to Nigeria for Prince Nico Mbarga’s “Sweet Mother,” and reach down to South Africa for “Pata Pata,” without the clicks.

I’m singing along to the Xhosa lyrics when he trills homosexually in my ear, “What are you doing here!”

“I just like the music,” I shrug, and somehow feel like I just gave a lame excuse, in the vein of I only read porno for the articles. His hand is on my far hip and the other one asks my hand for a dance. I let him have it, but let it go limp. I don’t know how to politely explain that I’m not very gay, so I don’t dance with dudes at Africa Night.

The chords of the keyboard pull a cord coiled taut around my heart. A sad flash of lightning that knows unbearable joy coruscates from the guitarist’s face and fingers. A djembe strikes midnight, thirty minutes late. There is not enough room to dance between the bodies but I do anyway, though some dressed-up dickhead keeps tapping my shoulder and frowning because I’ve stepped on his overshined shoes. The birth cries of blues are wailed by this small stage; I can’t tell if the top-shelf liquors are rocking to the bass or only appear to be moving due to the flickering reflection of Christmas lights. I fork over eight bucks for another Sugar Hill, and pitch my tote bag at two folded chairs in the corner, with an unapologetic shrug to the ostensible Columbia students whose shoulders I tossed it over.

Despite their svelte sweaters and impeccably-trimmed beards, I can’t help wondering where tonight might send them…. It was less than five years ago that these sonic explosions dispatched me across the ocean to study indigenous music at the University of Dar es Salaam, to traipse to Chamwino to listen to Kigogo choirs, to jet-set to jazz festivals in Cape Town, to ride with local stars to Dodoma & rap in Swahili, and to chase my favorite bands around Mwenge and Sinza.

Anything, anywhere, to figure out who I am when I listen to a piece of music.

Location In New York City

St. Nick’s Pub [closed]
773 Saint Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10031-3925

(212) 283-9728