Strobe Light Salvation
My friend Kurt is the driver. We’re doing 140 on the 720 East with eight pills, ten grams of weed, an open mind, and a ticket worth a full day’s salary. We have to get there before the line-up consumes the block. He tells me it’s a party...well not exactly a party. He tells me it’s like an event...but not exclusive. It is like a nightclub...but some call it a temple.
“Hello...can you prep before we get there?” The driver reminds me.
“Prep what? It’s a pill you pop and voila no?” I pull out the bag and weigh it in my hand.
“Ha! It is not just a pill; it is not just any magical bean you swallow and hope for the best, It is a delicate and complex composition of ethyl’s methyl’s and...”
“It is powder, in caplet, powder made in a bathtub”. I respond in a motherly tone.
“How crude...MDMA my boy is not to be fucked with. It is about high time you are reminded of that. It’s not for always, it’s not even for today, but it’s here tonight...For you to experience the flip side of things...”
Kurt pulls out his inner encyclopedia and explains to me how it’s the leading ingredient in ecstasy; the touchy feely side of the drug. It enhances the senses a thousand times over, and then a thousand times under, leaving its users in a hypnotic trance towards an unparalleled unison. Quite the promise for someone in my rather depressed state. Already he’s dragging me against my will, in hopes to change my life. What does he know about this place that I don’t?
“Listen, tell me now, it’s either you in or out. Not good to double guess yourself on this shit. Take one enjoy it and then...whatever...no worries dude. Just puke it out if you’re feeling totally off...”
A very reassuring introduction to my night, I have my survival based on my ability to puke on demand and a stoners ability to administer CPR on the dance floor. All hands on deck captain this is going to be a bumpy ride.
“Ya ya no worries dude. Fuck it what’s the worst that can happen?”
“DATS IT BUDDEY...so let’s go mutha fucka, you parachuting that shit or not?”
A parachute consists of a small piece of rolling paper, in which you empty out the said capsule. One sprinkles the powder gently in the center, fold it once into a triangle and then roll in the sides to create a small onion shaped package. At which point you lick the sticky part onto the center creating a square tablet. I know I’ve used three different shapes to describe what we once called a parachute, but the point of the package is that it slowly goes down your throat and melts in your belly. Kurt believes in the theatrics of pleasure, he says it’s not the same without them. “It’s what separates us from junkies”, he’s said time and time again. A rather delicate task when you’re racing through traffic...
We arrive at a sketchy parking lot. In front is our destination, a small black door, with a man in front. His face is...cheerful, but I don’t hear any music outside...I never understood why he loves this place so much. He’s only been a few times, but it’s as if he needs to come back rather than wants to. A need is after all a dire want, and as his number two I guess it is my turn to see what he sees. Perhaps it’s the freedom he feels? Under the cover darkness, while the world is a sleep, a few boys enter a big black box of mystery; it does have a nice ring to it.
“How many did you make?”
“Cool. We take one now so that it hits by the time we get there and get inside.
“What about the rest?”
“We’ll put half in my sock half in yours; at least if one of us gets caught the other can still supply the night...just chill...let’s fucking party”.
I toss the paper caplet in my mouth and I hear a million voices screaming ‘no’, and only one whispering ‘yes’. We walk up to the entrance. I’m waiting in line at the door. At this point they begin admitting us, like cattle. One by one, side by side, tickets in our hand, drugs in our shoes, we seem to be ready for whatever’s coming. “Seem” is definitely the best way to put it, for most things. I can assume everyone is here to get wasted and laid. But there’s something about the crowd that suggests something more.
Bah, a fool’s chase. These kids around me might be thirty but they’re still human in the end. How different can they be? The bouncer is smiling...odd...the couple in front of me must be at least my mother’s age, not calling her old or anything but they seem like they went to Woodstock in high school. Walking relics from an age where rebellion was converted into cash, where free love was being just like everyone else; how far we have come indeed.
“Welcome home”. The bouncer greets the couple. They smile. The kind of smile that takes them back to their youth, as it unfolds for them at 128 slides per minute. With a quick tear of my ticket, I’m in. The hostess gives me that same grin. She knows it’s my first time, I’m like a virgin on prom night; anxious, curious, and entering the lion’s den. Her face is telling me that I shouldn’t worry. That we, those who chase freedom, have all been where I am standing now. It’s as comforting as a pond at the bottom of a waterfall.
A punk girl takes my jacket; I tip her a coin and begin to walk the steps up to the room. There are only twelve but it feels like every step is taking something out of me. My stomach feels like molten iron. My heart begins to race as I stumble on the fourth step. The bouncer chuckles. It is not nervousness, it’s not fear. It is that voice that said “yes. What’s the worst that can happen?” that’s creeping me out the most. Devils usually stay in hell, angels in heaven; I guess the dance floor is my realm, fuck’em all right?
“Raise your arms and spread your legs sir”. A colossus stairs me down and pat’s me alike. The drugs are in my tummy you fool, and the other two are in my socks. Lower and lower...
“Take off your shoes please...Sir?”
“Ya sorry I was just...distracted by the track”.
“Mhm but I still need you to take off your shoes”.
He reaches for my feet and I shit a ton of bricks. He feels them clearly. He would be a shitty bouncer if he didn’t. A stare. He isn’t looking away, he sees every last milligram of sweat on my face. What is he going to say? Please don’t call the cops, please don’t kick my ass, and please don’t take my drugs...
“It’s his first time”. Kurt responds. I guess that makes a difference when you’re about to get pummelled for smuggling drugs into a club. The security guard pulls me from the back shoulder towards his mouth and whispers in my ear. “Garbage, now”.
I’m relieved I still have both my legs, but am kind of upset I wasn’t sent back home. The only thing scarier than our journey to find salvation is accepting when and where we find it. Beyond the curtained entrance, I stare in awe at a black and red couch harem. Chirping like little birds, these ravers are buzzing around me without a single sense of awareness, manner, or restraint. Heads tilted back as if everyone is asking “is my nose clean?” and a slacked lower jaw...What am I doing here? “The music”...a voice answers me. “But they don’t care, they don’t care if you are or aren’t here”. All I see are flashing lines of white clothing in an otherwise haphazard sea of bobbing heads. The crowd is imbued with debauchery and delirium. They speak to no one as they are mesmerized by the dance of light and mirrors.
“We are human...after all...” the speakers answer my desperate search for understanding. And then, for the first time in my life, I feel a wave...
“Sugaa, you going to need this”. Kurt smiles and hands me a bottle of vitamin water. His lips are tickling his eye lids. I’ve never seen him so happy, and he’s stepping up and down, with no moment of calm or steadiness.
“It seems natural”.
“Hahaha I told you!” Splurges Kurt.
I just realized I spoke out loud. It went from thought to speech without any filter or pause. My stomach sends another gurgle as we head to the dance floor. Does one eventually get used to this place...?
“I guess it’s about time we get into this mess”. Kurt waves his hand commanding me to follow and charges forward. Tints check! Out of the pocket and onto the nose, my world goes from dark to black and I snap my feet on the dance floor. Step by step the music gets louder, thirteen to reach the top, a perilous journey in search of pleasure.
Step one. This is probably karma biting me in the ass, amongst the rest of the shit I owe her. Step two. I think I’m in a comfy place...I did eaves drop a “welcome home”. Step three. This music is called house or tech house or... Step four. Currents of electricity manifested into a breath? Gaze? Thought? No of course not, what were you thinking of again? Step five. Should I feel at home here...yes that was the thought. Step six. I am attaching myself to the strangers around me. Step seven. We are sharing a common instability. Step eight. The unknown is comforting when the abyss becomes your haven. Step nine. Where your movement becomes a voice, where your voice becomes an image. Step ten. An image I can trust, is it just on account of the shades? Step eleven or are they really blind? Step twelve. Well they sure as hell can’t hear me thinking. Step thirteen. I reached the dance floor.
The ravers are doing their thing as they prance and dance in a fixed two-step radius. I got my outfit and a candy bottom water bottle, but is that enough? Should I find my own dance turf so I can seemingly integrate myself into the crowd? Or do I pull the cool guy right ankle over left and lean on the couches to spot out potential numbers? No one seems to be talking all that much, very few are sitting from what I see from this angle. I might as well do as they do. But when in Rome, do people act Roman for pleasure or do they go with their own baggage to make basilica their bitch? I look at these Romans and the musical orgy performed in front of my eyes and can still only ask myself “why”, and “how”...Thump Thump Thump Thump the base calls to its spectators and they obey its every command.
“What’s wrong?” Kurt perplexed by my sudden burst of discomfort.
“It’s not kicking in...I’m getting antsy as fuck man, this is bullshit, I knew that fucker must have hustled us”.
“Hahaha! Dude just calm down! Don’t think about it! Let the music guide you, that bean is just a key, you still have to walk up and open that door, just...just...listen”.
“Should I take another one?”
“Chill the fuck out, it’s been twenty minutes. We’re here, you don’t want to get too cracked, so just chill and enjoy the music”.
I could have been at work in five hours. Surrendered to some mundanity and not have to worry about escaping. It would have been another eight hour shift. A good lump sum in my hand, I could have asked the new intern out. But Nooooo, I chose not to go and do all those “normal” things right? Living like a bohemian mutha fucka, isn’t that right? So which is it going to be this time? Who am I impressing, what does my honor cost me this time? My stomach begins to gurgle. Every time I think of what to do and when or why the gurgles beat me down stronger...just let go...let go where? Who are these people around me? At least at a club I could differentiate between the drunkards, brawlers, players, pushers, hoes, bitches, teases, bangersand, anyone else up and down the social mosaic. It’s easier to know people when they are wearing a mask, but here, there are none. There are no sides, there are no types, no faces, no styles, just vibes. There is only the DJ, the dancers and the dance floor.
These creatures of the night juggle mind and soul in an attempt to brew their dreams through musical retreat. How artificial has their salvation become? Are they just faking it till they make it to true happiness? Is happiness being digested in my stomach now with a crude cocktail of chemicals seeping into my bloodstream? Keep pumping that stim stim stim stimuliii, stim stim stim stimuliii and all will be well in the end. Something about this highway to pleasure doesn’t seem right. It all seems too natural to be real, too easy to accept and too hard to understand. The music, the harmony, the synchronicity of the mix, all so delicately timed to pull you back as you begin to step forward. It breathes air into your sails as you dream of the waterfall you so desperately need to fall off from to wake up. Strange...my fingers are really hot...and I’m getting this...numbing feeling when I open and close...space...between fingers... Bathroom. Rinse your face off kid, I think those burritos are kicking in...oh shit...do I have to take a shit...what the fuck...okay run... Check for toilet paper and minimal jizz on the seat and let it drop.
And the beat goes on...
“Hey...where is the bathroom?” I ask a prancing bambi as I attempt to hide my flinching and gas induced face twitches...twitch...twitch...did I just blink nine times between our responses...?
“Down on your left”. She smiles, and gives me a long amphetamine-induced stare. Time seems to stand still in that moment until I realize how long this beat has been going on. Inhale, strobe, exhale, inhale, strobe, exhale. She raises her hand and touches my face. Her hand feels like a thousand little feathers caressing my skin. Like my cheek is the wind, dancing in a harem of silk and velvet.
“Come with me you”. I follow her without a second thought.
“Hold on a second”. I don’t want to break my harmony, I want to, nay, I must stay exactly here for as long as I...
“What’s wrong?” The goddess questions my faith.
“I feel...slow...and...awake... I’m sorry... it’s just I’ve...” I have never felt this way in my life. My body and mind have joined in a surge of pulses and wobbles that break every thought into a thousand little whispers. Not only can I not move but I cannot think of moving, let alone finish my sentence.
“Shhhhh don’t worry about it, just listen to what he’s saying”. She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I would spend an eternity staring at her long brown hair, her perky cheek smile, those small puckery lips, and the owl-like eyes I see behind the sunglasses. The music stops. We stop dead in our tracks as if our minds and bodies are connected. We look behind us and see a giant disco ball towering over us from atop the stairs. A new day, a new sun, that awakens us all with... flangers? Swooshes...?
Swoosh.swoooooooshh.Swoooooooooooshhhh. The DJ slices through the crowd, with three turns of a dial. Thousands have fallen with the murderous break; thousands are reborn with the rolling drop, such is the cycle of the dance floor.
The sound waves crash into the loop of my ears, and grind my heart to a thundering stop. The swoosh penetrates my spine and I begin to stare at the ceiling. I raise my hands in the air. Open them slowly, and begin to caress the space around me. It is not empty. It never is and it never was. A wavering blast of bass slaps me across the face. I turn to look at my Venus, and she kisses me on the steps. I was in love once and I could comfortably say this is greater than love. It is beyond love, it is beyond reason and second only to the thought of an eternal paradise without woes, questions or prisons. In this kiss I understand why a grain of sand is exactly where it is.
The kiss ends...the song changes. She laughs and drags me to the bathroom. Every step I take feels calculated and predetermined as if I know what is about to happen. Into a stall we go and a little white bag of hope appears. She smiles, and hands me her hand with a slithering powdered worm from her thumb to the crease of her wrist. Her lips aren’t moving, but I hear her voice in my mind. She forbids me to do anything else but accept her gift. Sniff...my eyes role back as a rush of energy fills up my nose, sliding down my throat and with an awkward gulp the creature numbs my face from fin to chin.
“What do you love?”
What the fuck did she just ask me? Wait, you can hear the answer already, even before she said it. You heard her ask it twenty minutes ago. It was rehearsed. The two of us have been practising this moment without even knowing it. It can’t be this perfect. Puzzle, piece by sound, beat by nail. Dear lord I just took your throne.
“I love...me... I love you”.
Another smile. She draws another chalk line, steps out. Gives me one more kiss. I pull her in and take off my shirt. She bites my ear, and I lick her neck, every hair on my body stands and the bass penetrates the walls of the stall, tickling every toe, stinging every surface, pulping every pout. I can hear the DJ talking to me, telling me what to do. Where to put my hand, what to touch, what to press, when to nibble and when to hump. She follows the script. Uttering moans and sighs till I was convinced she was my wife, the world watching and cheering me on as I unbuckle my pants. I can feel her thoughts and read her mind through her eyes. “Wait” she still has her glasses on. She lifts them off her head. Did she just hear me? Have I been saying all of this aloud...? He whispers yes and stops my pants from dropping. This isn’t like me, surely I’m...hallucinating? Inebriated? Fucked up? Dead?
“I’m sorry...I can’t do this...my boyfriend is upstairs. I told him I was going to buy a bottle and I saw you and I knew what you needed to see, what you were missing... I couldn’t leave you there. That’s how we vibe”. She gently taps me off, pulls out a capsule and the baggy of blow. Cracks em both and in one motion slides both through her nostril. Sniff, burn, ouch and she’s gone. I have no idea what she was talking about, but it made absolute and perfect sense.
“One...one what...” My jaw drops and I mumble a few more “ones” and “whats” as I attempt to understand what the fuck just happened.
“You’ve just been lit babe”.
“Living in trance baby, living in trance”.
From that moment forward it felt like I no longer needed to think of my night. It was perfect, a thousand years of knowledge acquired in a bathroom stall...who would have thought... I wonder how long I’ve been gone...Kurt... I step outside and scan the harem for my companion.
“Duuuuddddeeee. How you feeling man?” My partner in crime calls out. He's lost his shirt and part of his mind.
His jaw hanging after every word, as if he was a famished beast returning from a gruesome grisly gastronomical gestation of gnarling gargling giggles. If I were to begin explaining to him my reliving of creation, I would never finish.
“Do you feel different, funny, bro do you feel fucked up, like the small prickly things on your hand? You got the rolly eyes?” His pupils are growing through his sunglasses and are spying into my soul. Every new word he says becomes an echo in the back of my mind. “Bro did you tap her, oh my god man this is just so...fuck man I love you bro... I’m so happy you came with me finally...watch bro...watch this...watch the music... the harmony bro, the fucking harmony just rising and dropping”.
He turns back staring at the red and black decor, the projector screen pulsing shadows to the sound of electronized distortion. Watch, tick tock tick tock, this be the tale of the tattle tale clock. My eyes stride like a metronome, as the snaps and snares of the track infect my feet and polish the dance floor with my sweat. Overlapping sight and sound ensure our ability to feel what we think, and understand what we know. The speaker is pulling me into its cone. Through the beat I see it, my feet, their wrong, its right left...not left right...right...left...right...left...up...down...right...left...stomach, chilled, shit, suppressed, mind, absent, feelings, high, it seems to my senses, that every key of this track is a...key.
“I need to sit”.
“Go get some water dude, your sweating buckets”. I nod my head, confused and amazed at how he knew when I was thirsty, although...I don’t feel thirsty...be safe...listen to the ferrymen. Red to white, black to white, white to black, white to red. I put both hands on the cold counter, red to triangle.
“One water please”. I thought I was yelling at the top of my lungs, but only a peep came out of my mouth. I throw a twenty on the table before she says the price. I do not think twice about the change, she just saved my life, she’s a heroine. What is my $20 worth in the fifty years I will be living after this day?
Day...what time is it...? I see my friend loafing on a sofa, his back bent against the red leather cushion, legs stretched long across the hallway, and his head hanging on the other side of the couch. He’s staring at an ominous void between his mind and reality. I can feel that nothing is going through his head except a sense of bliss, generated by the musical potion bubbling around us. He grabs the water out of my hand, takes a long sip, awakens from his coma and forces me to drink the rest. I sit quietly next to him following the orders of the beat. I can follow where it’s going, the journey has only just begun and I find it as difficult to swallow as the water... I couldn’t be happier.
“What time is it bro?”
We check the clock... I must be really fucked up...we've been here for at least five hours... I had time to fall in love, shit, have an existential crisis, solve two out twelve riddles of the cosmos, enter the hellish void of imagination, die and be revived by the sexiest trance maiden I’ve ever seen... Surely it can’t be 5:36.
“A thousand stories unfold in a blink of an eye”, is an Armenian expression that stuck with Michael Ghannoum in his career as an independent writer. Graduated from Concordia University in History, Michael is a traveller, raver, and community leader in his home town of Montreal.