Night Life

Mild On Houston

E! Entertainment Television is in the house tonight for a taping of their popular hit Wild On, and the beautiful people are turning out. Or that's the story, anyway. Outside, a young man with neatly trimmed facial hair approaches and informs Club Go (2001 Commerce) owner/manager Zia Ahmed that he's got a rapper named Nelly around the corner in a limo and a side entrance is needed to escort the star onto the premises.

"He and his friends don't have on the proper attire, but would like to be a part of the evening."

Zia -- either not understanding the man's country grammar or not being easily impressed, declines to go the extra effort.

"Ahem," grumbles Neatly Trimmed Beard, "Nelly is around the corner and Nelly would like to be a part of the evening."

More words are exchanged in hushed tones and Zia gets on a radio and arranges for security to open a back entrance so that Nelly can get his eagle on.

A stretch Merc slowly approaches and parks close to the door. Four men in basketball jerseys, shorts and sneakers all make their way to the VIP entrance while speaking casually into cell phones. None of them is Nelly.

It's after 10:30, so those wanting to enter will now have to reach into their pockets for a $20. There are three bars located in the club, which, all told, is big enough to house an airplane or two. Tonight all the action is happening at the bar located to the right, where 97.9's DJ Jazzy Redd is spinning the same records you've heard ad nauseam on his station. He reminds us to tip our bartenders and go crazy should the cameras happen to focus their gaze upon us.

"Show the rest of the country how H-town parties, y'all!"

My twin and I have been here for close to an hour and have yet to see any E! crews or the supermodel types that host segments for Wild On. There is one man with a camera. He's just placed it between his knees to light another cigarette in a move so utterly unprofessional my brother -- a radio/TV graduate himself -- can't possibly believe he cashes a check from a major cable network.

He doesn't. A few probing questions unearth that he and the two female hosts (who look less model than "gentleman's entertainer") are from the public access show Texas Live.

It's time for a drink. Of the three bars, only one is open, and it's lined four deep around its entire length. We find ourselves at a part of the bar located by plush couches where "Nelly" and his crew have parked themselves -- still gabbing into their Prime Cos.

There are five bartenders quickly rushing to and fro to quench the growing mob's thirst. Those around me are beginning to complain about the obvious understaffing. After waiting several minutes to have their cars parked by an equally swamped valet earlier in the evening and now waiting even longer to score a drink, it's easy to understand why. Others are giddy upon hearing the news that -- somewhere in the crowd -- Nelly lurks.

I ask a young woman spilling out of her top if she's glimpsed him in herre.

"No, but I'm sure he is. Did you see the Pimp Juice car out front?"

Indeed I did. It would have been difficult to miss the promotional vehicle parked out front with Nelly's face and new energy drink plastered all over it. The Red Bull fridges behind the bar are packed with it, which, I'm sure, would thrill Go's Red Bull supplier.

I begin to wonder if this Nelly talk is an elaborate ruse. It certainly would be a somewhat ingenious, albeit sad, arrow of one-upmanship slung in a competitive downtown club scene. You can almost see the ad: "Go -- where rap stars come to play!"

A more likely answer is that these young men pulled a fast one on Zia, who, by all appearances, doesn't seem to be a hip-hop scholar. Halfhearted kudos are in order -- I'm just not sure to whom. Days later, Zia tells me via e-mail that he thinks Nelly was hiding in the VIP section. "I heard he was there and my bouncers told me he came in for a bit, but I personally did not meet him, and others told me he was there too…"

We give up on trying to get drinks and stroll around the rest of the cavernous club. In the middle of it all is a hastily built structure meant to house three different voyeur-style fantasies behind Plexiglas in three different rooms. You can watch: a) a girl on a bed dressed in a low-cut negligee, b) a photo shoot for Gloss magazine, or c) a game of Twister.

No one is playing Twister. The window that looks in on the photo shoot is partially obscured by a lighting apparatus that requires awkward neck craning, rendering this particular indulgence practically worthless. The girl in bed? Not being able to imbibe has stripped me of the nerve to do anything more than steal a glance. Besides -- "Nelly" and friends are lined up in front of the display and I'm in no mood to risk them going andele andele mami E.I. E.I. on my ass.

At midnight, something good happens. An airbrush artist arrives. His name is Ryan, and he's readying his equipment. In a few moments, he tells me, he'll be airbrushing naked bodies of willing ladies in the Twister room.

I ask him if he has his own girls, or if he waits for volunteers.

"We have a few of our own," he says. "We do them and then, typically, other girls will want to join in. It's a snowball effect."

Typically? Twin and I decide that if this works we're going to start bringing finger paints to clubs, spotting drunken Girls Gone Wild types and asking them, "Whooooo wants to be turned into a zeeeeebra?"

Ryan and I make some more small talk as three stripper types enter the room and give him a kiss on the cheek. Tough life, Ryan.

Much like the Nelly buzz, rumors of naked airbrushed titties rattle quickly around the club and soon a healthy crowd of onlookers is standing outside the window.

They are greeted with still more equipment setup, followed by equipment testing. Shortly after this -- more testing…plug in…testing…setup.

Finally, the show gets started, and Ryan covers a tiny girl in a coat of orange. He's going to turn her into a tiger. Hundreds of cell phone cameras are raised. A sober me feels bashful.

We head back into the main room. Still no sign of E!'s cameras. I see Zia and pull him aside and ask him how the night's going.

"Fine. It's going all right."

"Are there as many people here as you'd hoped?"

"No. We were expecting 1,000. By the end of the night we'll probably have done 600."

"I haven't seen any E! crews around."

"Yeah. They were supposed to arrive at 12:30, but they're not here yet." (According to a later conversation with Zia, E!'s crew claimed to have gotten lost and also misplaced Zia's number, which is why they didn't arrive until 20 minutes before two. Then, Zia says, after filming "nonstop," they told him he "[wouldn't] be able to tell the difference" when the show airs in early October.)

Before the E! cameras arrive, however, I'm getting restless -- it's fast approaching 1 a.m. And just as I'm about to ask Zia why they opened only one bar if they were expecting a thousand people, someone from Go security borrows his ear.

I'll let it slide. It's been a tough night for Zia, and I don't want to add any undue stress. I'm impressed and somewhat shocked that a club owner -- big-britches braggers that they are -- actually admitted to me that the night hadn't gone exactly as he'd hoped.

Also, I'm pretty sure the security guard just told him Jay-Z is out front.

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Brian McManus
Contact: Brian McManus