Night Life

The Engine Room

A woman in a hospital gown is spread-eagle on a makeshift bed with a fake doctor between her knees. She feigns a push. Her face wrenches.

The doctor steps back, and a load of confetti blasts from between her legs and covers the stage full of drag kings, who begin dancing under the smoke, lights and falling paper shards.

That's the beginning of the Gendermyn's "Labor Show" at the Engine Room. The beginning.

Later in the show, when the intro to the Tubes' "She's a Beauty" creeps across the room, I have a minor epiphany: My dad had reasonable foresight in trying to explain to me, at a fairly early age, the concept of "strip club music," which seemed to include "Freeze Frame," "Centerfold" and pretty much anything else played during the video montages on the original Bob Saget-hosted incarnation of America's Funniest Home Videos (think about that, suckers).

Lyrical content aside, those thin, overdriven guitar riffs wash over exposed thighs in a way that is truly majestic. Except right now, those thighs belong to a woman who shaves less often than me.

When a good friend invited me to the Labor Show, I was promised a salacious, pansexual freak-out with thoughtful performances and street-level political commentary. The Gendermyn delivered. I was genuinely impressed, as I am by anything that combines decadence with quality artistic displays.

But this is also supposed to be a righteous party, and I decide it's best to explore that aspect of the scene before I begin quoting Nadine Strossen and scare the shit out of everyone, myself included.

This takes me to the corner of the bar, where I happen upon my buddy Patrick, whom I'd seen at a house party earlier in the night and who's nursing a raspy voice.

"Hey man," he says, sounding a lot like Tom Waits, "I was blowing fire. You missed it."

"What the hell?"

"Yeah. I did it twice, and I'm trying to talk this guy" — Patrick points at the newest bartender — "into learning how."

"No way, man," says the bartender. "I've got a beard."

"Duuude," growls Patrick, "It's totally safe. It's way out in front. It won't get anywhere near your beard."

The bartender shakes his head, but I see a moment of hesitation.

"None of that will matter when I have to jump over the bar and beat you with my shirt to put out the fire on your head." He just looks at me.

"Let's do a shot," Patrick bellows. "Rumplemintz!"

"We don't have that."

"Yeah you do, man. You poured me one earlier. It's right there."

Patrick points. Our bartender looks.

"Dude," Patrick says.

He raises his damaged voice, rolling out mock sarcasm to play the part of Shithead Customer. Patrick used to be a bartender.

"C'mon, man. Follow my finger."

"He doesn't have to get all 'asshole' about it," snaps the girl sitting to my right.

I turn to her. "He's harmless. He was just born with that disposition."

"So, he developed into a superior ­asshole?"

"Over time," I reply, "but he's consistent, and that's all that really matters to me."

Rumplemintz poured. Rumplemintz shot. Patrick howls. I sip some gin.

I'm impressed that the girl stuck up for the bartender. A gear pops.

"So," I turn a little more in her direction, "you're either a bartender or you know a few of them. Which is it?"

She ignores me and snuffs her cigarette. I'm not interested enough to press the issue. News flash: Women are ­distracting.

Back to the action. Our bartender continues to refuse fire-breathing lessons.

"Whatever," Patrick rasps, throwing up his hands. "I'm gonna do another one."

Patrick sips water, swirls and swallows. He gets a tongue-full of 151, primes a finger, starts the flame and sprays rum. A ball of fire hisses and rises toward the ceiling.

No crowd forms. I'm perplexed. Then, I realize that there are lots of nubile young women grinding on one another in the middle of the floor, not to mention the smattering of others trading tender kisses in the corners of the room.

And fuck these kids, anyway. Don't they know good entertainment when they see it? I'll take fire in the foreground and female lip-locking at the back. By the end of the night, I've lain on the stage in the shadow of Patrick, taking pictures of fireballs while being covered in the rum that didn't ignite.

Planned Parenthood is giving away condoms at the merch table, and I briefly dance with a lesbian who has glued a Fu Manchu to her face.

One in a million nights. Why would I lie?

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Chris Henderson