The guy was in his early 20s, had short hair and was wearing baggy jeans with a huge pink buckle in the shape of a crown. It was a cold night, but he was wearing nothing but a wife beater. I asked him if he was cold. “Oh, I don’t even notice,” he said.
I readied my money as we sat down in my car, but it wasn’t going to be as simple as I thought. “No, no. I don’t have it on me. We have to go to a different place to get it. We have to go to my hotel and meet a friend of mine. He has it.” And then he stretched out his hand to introduce himself. His name was Darnell.
He was sketchy on the details of how we’d make the score, but I didn’t feel too paranoid about it. Thing is, Darnell was gay. Not just gay, but flaming: exaggerated lisp, limp wrists, spastic sideway movements of the head, exaggerated rolling of the eyes. The act was too good for an undercover cop to pull off. Or at least I thought it was. And having grown up in San Francisco, I’ve been conditioned not to be intimidated by someone this flaming. In fact, on some level, I couldn’t help but instinctively trust them.
Darnell had more reservations about me than I did about him. “You’re not a cop right? You don’t look like a cop. Good. I’m sick and tired of them. I’ve been arrested twenty-seven times.” For what? “Oh, you know. Prostitution,” he said with some pride. “I spent three months in jail. Not back to back or anything, but total.”
We drove towards West Hollywood, and the semi-industrial landscape of Hollywood proper gave way to shops, restaurants and rows of manicured palm trees. All this time, Darnell hadn’t stopped talking. He talked about all the guys he picks up at exactly the spot where I found him. “I meet a lot of people out there. We have fun… And they always end up becoming my friends.” He also told me about some guy who ran off with his phone earlier that day. He told me about a documentary movie about male prostitution he was in. It would’ve been a success, too, if he hadn’t been arrested and sent to jail for prostitution during production. “Oh no. I wasn’t just being interviewed, I was one of the main characters and helping out with the film and stuff.” It was pure LA talk.
We pulled up to a nondescript apartment building on a street in the heart of West Hollywood. The street was empty, except for a few people coming in and out of a metal gate. That’s where we were headed, too.
As we pushed through the door, I found myself in a totally different world. Cool blue lights danced around a small courtyard. A canopy of dense palm trees blocked out the night sky and hung over a small brightly-lit pool surrounded by miniature, low-slung bungalows. We walked past a burly guy with a bushy beard and a shaved head manning the reception desk, and stepped into a tropical resort. It was quiet and peaceful, but not empty. You could hear the din of hushed, quiet voices coming from all around. Lounge chairs flanked the perimeter. A couple men were treading water in the pool, there was a guy reclining in a small jacuzzi, another was in a lounge chair outside his bungalow reading a magazine. Two middle-aged white men with potbellies walked past with nothing but thin white towels around their waists.
This was no ordinary resort. I hadn’t put two and two together until then, but West Hollywood is LA’s Castro District. If you squint at a zoning map of LA, West Hollywood looks like an 8-bit drawing of a dick and balls grafted to the east side of Beverly Hills. Half of the people living in WeHo, as they call it here, are openly gay. So it made sense that I’d arrived at some kind of gay hangout. As we made our way through the courtyard, I could pick up faint grunts and moans coming from the rooms around me. And they weren’t female moans and grunts. The good news for me was that this meant I wasn’t being set up in a sting operation. Little did I know that I was being given a rare glimpse into a modern-era speakeasy: the gay spa.
Darnell’s room was your average cheap motel type and it was a mess. The bed sheets were bunched up in a corner, clothes were strewn about, a small bottle of used lube was on the mattress and another bigger bottle was on the nightstand, right next to a leather collar and leash. The closet, its door wide open, was empty, save a lone chair and glass crack pipe.
“Yeah. It’s great here,” he said. “Actually I just moved to this room today from a different room. It’s smaller, but I like it better. It’s much quieter here.” Darnell didn’t get into the details of his living arrangements, and I didn’t push him. It’s not polite or smart to ask too many questions during drug scores. But it was clear he had been living there for about a week and was struggling to pay the $100 a night cost.
He made his bed and kicked off his shoes, put on a do-rag, dug out two cellphones from his bag and started transferring SIM cards from one to the other while trying to catch a something danceable on the radio. Midway through, he turned on the TV and started flipping through the channels, leaving the radio stuck in between frequencies and the volume dialed to high. Darnell seemed coherent in the car, but now he was losing it. He couldn’t concentrate on anything. It probably had something to do with the crack pipe.
All of a sudden, someone burst into the room without knocking. For a second, I thought it was a bust. My heart rate spiked into the red zone. But instead of a cop, it was a professional-looking black guy in his 40s with two beers, a hamburger and an ecstatic smile. “Hey! Darnell! I thought you’d be here! I had some beer with me and thought I’d stop by. And you know, I didn’t want to be smoking this stuff on the street.” His name was Jerry. After scruffing down the burger, he produced a glass pipe of his own and filled it with a pinch of crystal. He took a seat in the closet and contentedly started puffing away. Darnell took up the position next, but I declined when it came my turn. I still had my sights set on the calm Buddhist nirvana high of heroin, not this.
Darnell’s dealer friend arrived next. He was an Arab-looking type named David. Short, skinny, with a shaved head and a spherical potbelly, he looked like a brown smurf in a spotless white wife-beater. David was not some corner gigolo like Darnell. He was carrying around an iPhone, Mercedes keys and a small golden case with a tiny notepad inside. Was he Darnell’s pimp? Didn’t seem likely. He was too soft-spoken, the most non-threatening dealer I had ever met. And he didn’t have smack.
“My friend is going to call back in 10 minutes. He might not be able to come here because if he leaves his spot, he won’t be able to come back. He’s by the 405 freeway,” he said. “Is that ok?” It was fine by me.
There was a knock on the door. It was the beefy concierge and there was some sort of problem. It wasn’t the meth. In fact, no one even bothered hiding it. He wanted to know what to do with some guy he wanted to throw out. Indeed, after a brief tussle, a hippie-looking guy in his mid-20s stumbled into the room. He kept mumbling and was making no sense at all. He was in a difficult situation: he couldn’t go home, but couldn’t stay at the spa either. He didn’t have his ID (required for entrance) and had five minutes before the concierge came back. At this point, there were four dudes, including myself, in a tiny hotel room. Three of them were smoking meth, and I was starting to seriously jones for my smack.
The hippie kid handed Darnell two crumpled dollar bills, sat down in the closet and kept mumbling. Meanwhile, Darnell was getting annoyed with Jerry, the yuppie-black guy, and wanted him to leave. But Jerry resisted. Darnell was too faggy to be directly confrontational, so David, the dealer/pimp, had to step in.
“He told you to leave,” David said, moving to open the door.
“Oh, it’s like that?” Jerry said, his bitchy sarcasm masking his embarrassment. “Yeah. It’s like that.” Darnell just nodded from across the room. Their catty posturing was sitcom level. These guys were the most non-threatening drug users I had ever come across.
With Jerry gone, Darnell and David turned to the mumbling youth in the closet. It seemed his wallet was stolen by the same guy that ran off with Darnell’s phone earlier. But he wasn’t sure. Maybe the wallet was in the room and not stolen? Maybe. So they all got into looking for it. The front desk guy came back to take him away. Darnell and the others stalled him for another 15 minutes. In the meantime, more meth was smoked. I was starting to get agitated. Being surrounded by hardcore tweaker-homos on a binge, guys who couldn’t keep a train of thought going for more than 30 seconds, was starting to wear me down in my frustratingly sober state. I stepped out into the courtyard for some fresh air.
The place was starting to come alive. A few more dudes joined up in the pool fun. The humping noises were definitely there, filtering from every direction. A door opened down the hall from Darnell’s room and a wrinkly naked man in his 50s wrapped in a towel hugged some guy goodbye. Five minutes later another man knocked on the same door and was let in. You could glimpse a couple more naked bodies in the room. Judging by the pile of empty room service dishes outside, the occupants were in for a monster marathon ass-fuck session.
It seemed everyone around me was jacked up on meth, but the place broke every stereotype about drug dens. This was not a classic flophouse that you read about in the books. It wasn’t seedy or run-down or dangerous. It was clean, respectable, safe and even elegant. It was a resort where no one minded if you do drugs. What could be simpler or more natural, or more civilized, for that matter?
I was beginning to appreciate the setup. They gay community had the answer to the Drug Prohibition. They had set up their own Club Phed, a modern speakeasy, and they didn’t have to worry about the normals coming and ruining it. It was exclusive and safe simply by being aggressively gay. Their own aren’t righteously down on drugs like the straight masses. Drug-users or not, they’d never turn them in to a common enemy.
But I didn’t have much time for contemplation. David was on the move. “Hey, let me put on a shirt and we’ll go meet my friend,” he said as he passed me on the way to his bungalow. But he never came out. Darnell and I hung out in his room for another twenty minutes, but it was clear something went wrong. It was also clear that I was killing Darnell’s high. Not only was I straight, I was also sober. Darnell went to David’s room to investigate.
It took him twenty minutes to emerge. “Oh, the dealer is there. But there are so many people. Wow. This place is really starting to go off. Give me the money and I’ll be right back.” He came back, but not with the shit I was looking for. The stuff in the baggie wasn’t brown or dark red; it was filled with clear jagged crystal: pure meth.
“This isn’t heroin,” I protested. “This is meth. I thought you were going to—”, but I was cut off by a yuppie in a suit who pushed his way into the room past me. His collar was undone, his suit was wrinkled and he had a wad of caked spit on his lower lip. The guy was high, stumbling over his words, his pupils the size of quarters. And he wanted to get even higher. He took out a pipe, filled it with crystal and lit Darnell up. Then he invited him to observe a fuck session.
“I just met this awesome tranny that I’m going to fuck. I’ve been working her for a long time. You should come and watch.”
“Are you going to pay me anything? Or is it gonna be like last time,” Darnell answered in a bitchy tone.
“No,” the high yuppie said quietly, some of the speedy enthusiasm draining from his eyes.
“Oh well, guess I don’t want to watch then. Bye,” Darnell said and led the eager tranny fucker out of his room. Then he turned to me. He was serious and composed. “Look. I know it isn’t what you wanted. But do you know what this place is? This is a gay spa,” he explained slowly and thoughtfully. “Meth. This is what we do here.”
Yasha Levine an editor of The eXiled. Contact him at levine [at] exiledonline.com.
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