With the B List fading in the junkyard-Geo mirror, I'm now officially on the prowl for a dirtier, sexier, more absurd, or in this case, more illegal version of our City Beautiful. Peeling back the ears, and rolling back (and on) the years, Orlando possesses a sticky history -- even more so than most suburban strip malls full of nothing to do -- of violent, head-cracking release. Rave 'til dawn!
Welcome to Blister, where nothing really makes sense, although everything may (or may not) be true. A world of never-ending happiness, where you can always see the sun. Or, as my editor says, "the fucked-up things that happen in Orlando as interpreted through the fucked-up mind of Billy Manes."
And I took that as a compliment. That's how fucked up I am.
On a recent night, only a trainspot away, with one eye open I approach one of my linchpins of entertainment, Southern Nights, which is all mirrored walls and mindless vanity.
Just two feet inside the door my head is already rushing ahead to the bar, where sits a dyno-lesbo gal pal in a state of been-there-done-that decline similar to my own. The smiles of recognition that fill the spaces between us make it all seem somehow worthwhile. Survivors, we are. Or maybe just old.
"How are you?" I register nothing.
"Great," she responds in kind. Threadbare.
But alas, I've left my cigarettes in the Geo. In a few graduated stumbles I'm back in the parking lot where I'm suddenly befriended by a shuffle-footed, well-intentioned, iPod-wearing stranger. And here my story begins.
"Lose your keys?" He knows.
"Well, yeah," I squint, trying to see if he's cute, still very on top of my game.
Before I know it, iPod rips the antenna off the top of my sad Geo and is trying to wedge it through the window to get the door open, y'know, with no hook on the end. Break everything, accomplish nothing; these are the goals here.
Heading back indoors for some sympathy, and possibly a drink with a lesbian, I'm startled to find that my keys are right at the front desk, where I left them when I was getting my hand stamped.
Hurrah! Back out to my antenna-less car, where iPod still waits, as do my cigarettes.
"Hey, I'm a DJ just visiting Orlando," iPod serial kills, potentially. "I'm spinning at the Blue Room. Do you think you could drop me off at the Westin Grand Bohemian?" The words 'Westin,' 'Grand' and 'Bohemian' drip off his face like diamonds. So I guess I think he's trying to pick me up, because obviously a rich DJ staying at the Westin could muster his own transportation. I play along, because I'm really not interested. No, not at all.
"Well, yeah, I guess it's on my way," I invite the killer to eat my entrails. "I live downtown."
And so it begins -- first with the DJ telling me to take a left where I should take a right, and then leading me down the well-trodden path to Orlando's underbelly -- down the happy trail, to the gutter.
"So, where are you spinning again?" I quiver, a little bit uncertain that this is what my editor had in mind.
We pull up to some downtown apartment complex, because he tells me to, and he says he just needs to run in for a second. Any pretty girl would know to drive away at this point, but I'm not that pretty. So I wait, watching the dew form on my shame and watching several low-panted thugs scatter, nervously picking the picks in their hair.
iPod returns with a smile on his face that suggests a score, and in a small way, I'm happy for him. Just doin' my job, ma'am. Maybe he just knows somebody in town. Maybe this isn't a shanghai. Maybe I should have stayed home.
A couple of blocks away I feel like we're friends. Because at this next stop, another brokedown palace, I'm invited in. Me! In a real live crackhouse! To die for!
Expecting some 50 Cent paradise, I'm greeted instead by a gracious elderly woman who resembles Granny from Beverly Hillbillies, only a few shades darker. Her daughter, 40-ish, lives with her, and they're laying out lines for me on a plate before I can muster a, "No, thank you." Fortunately the "No, thank you" comes out before the crack pipe does -- an involved plastic rig, in this case, of futuristic architecture -- and iPod's attempts at convincing me to partake are met with a dull, "I'm driving." From this idiot you read before you. Heh.
A couple of pleasantries of the most awkward variety -- mom-daughter speak at 2 a.m. -- and we're off again, heading this time towards downtown. The Westin, by now, is the Wiz, and I'm Diana Ross yet to be caught by the feds.
"Pull over for a second," spins the DJ, clocking a gaggle of frat boys stumbling out of Scruffy's.
He pulls out a bag of 20 tablets -- which I'm sure are not fake -- and runs after the frat boys around Orange Avenue. Two minutes later, he's back, smiling. That's my boy.
"So, shall we drop you at the Westin, now?" I hope against hope, not at all afraid for my well-being.
"One more stop." He kills me softly.
And it's at that stop, back at the crackhouse, that I'm allowed an extended hour of reflection upon my time with iPod. As my head spins around that dark flower like a dead bee, I realize that this is what Orlando's creative dance culture has become: a beautiful smattering of crackhouses in downtown, built on the ashes of a subculture that was never meant to be. Sniffle.
One of the hairpicks bangs on my window. "What do you need?"
"Uh, nothing. Just waiting for ... that guy," I churl.
"He left out the back door a half hour ago."
With my heart. I love crackheads.