Okay, the first thing you need to know about me, is that I was born a nerd. A total square. A complete chickenshit. Painfully shy to the point where company would ask “So…uh, does she talk?” Freakishly double-jointed, and incredibly clumsy with both knees in a constant state of scabbing. I’ve had glasses since 2nd grade and my face was always in a book. My dad used to come in my bedroom after school and grab whatever book I was reading — Encyclopedia Brown, Serpico, The Onion Field, Charlotte’s Web — and stick a Barbie in my hand and yell “You’re EIGHT, not eighty! You’re freaking me out! Go outside and play!”
I’m talking about my workaholic dad — the former Viet Nam Army helicopter pilot, and then career policeman, who idolized Robert Duvall’s Marine character in The Great Santini so much so, that he used to sign his notes to me and my brothers “You grunts had better make sure your lunches are packed, your rooms are clean, and the fish sticks are on the table at 1800 hrs sharp or there will be boo-koo hell to pay! Love, The Great Santini aka WGA” WGA was his own made-up acronym that meant World’s Greatest Asshole. We had the strictest dad on our street, in our subdivision, and probably the whole town. All my friends were scared of him and he was proud of that. He also used to say “If you EVER get in trouble with the police, don’t even THINK about asking me to help you out of it. In fact, I’ll make sure you get double punishment — because a policeman’s kid oughta KNOW better!” Then he’d kiss us on the head, grab his coffee mug, and head out to whatever double shift or extra security job he was always running off to.
Yeah, I guess a policeman’s kid really oughta know better — but all I know is, by the time I got to high school, being a policeman’s kid had turned me into a really expert liar. I’m not talking about sneaking out to drink beer or smoke pot — I was a total nerd, remember? I was a straight-A honor student and I spent all of my time after school in drama or chorus or at work. All I wanted to do was get out of suburbia, so I used my lies to sneak out to silent films and the Rocky Horror Picture show and to shop in used book stores and vintage clothing shops, and I was dying to be old enough to see live music and go dancing in clubs. And it was dancing that led to my first crime.
So I’m 17 years old and it is the spring of 1982. I’m driving my car, a really shitty cranberry red 1965 Ford Mustang with a warped front end that always yanks to the right (I’ve been trying to pick up enough extra shifts at my job selling popsicles at Six Flags Over Georgia to be able to afford some new ball joints.) So, I’m eastbound on I-20 going a scandalous 59 miles per hour — four whole miles over the speed limit — but my favorite Joe Jackson song “Steppin’ Out” is on the radio and it always makes me drive fast. I’m out of my strict house. I’m feeling sort of brave. I’m feeling almost free.
I’m with my best friends, Trey and Randall, and between the three of us we’ve braided together a tight net of lies and alibis to cover each other’s asses and our own. It’s 10 o’clock on a Saturday night, and we’re headed into Atlanta — the big city — to a gay disco called Backstreet — to DANCE.
Halfway to town, we stop at an forsaken out-of-the-way Burger King in Austell GA. This is where we will transform. The three of us cram into the girls bathroom and lock the door. We do each others’ make-up: black liquid eyeliner, iridescent blue lipgloss, glitter eyeshadows, and a beauty mark or two — and then we change into our approximation of Punk and New Wave fashion. Ripped neon sweatshirts, nylon parachute dance pants, and white Capezio lace-ups for the boys. For me, my dad’s old XL moth-eaten black wool turtleneck sweater, a few extra-long knotted strands of fake pearls, a white skirt made into a mini by folding over the waistband a couple times, some cheap white nurse’s panty hose from Kmart, and my beloved patent leather gold flats that I mail-ordered from the ESPRIT catalog. That was two whole Six Flags paychecks right there.
The boys gel their hair to make it stick up, and I slick mine down — my long brown hair with beatnik bangs. Then our finishing touch: tiny gold safety pins that Trey stole from his mother’s sewing box, the sharp pointy ends filed down and stuck through our pierced earlobes. We’re ready.
We drive to the vast crowded parking lot of Backstreet, just off Peachtree Street in Midtown, and I park in the last row, near Juniper Street. It’s about midnight, but still we wait in my car. I’m nervous.
“Are you sure they’re gonna let us in?”
“YES, I’m sure. Trey and I were here last weekend and it’s true. They don’t card after midnight — especially if you’re a cute boy.”
“But I’m not a cute boy!”
“Oh stop worrying, they’ll let you in. And I brought my magic markers just in case. If we can get someone who’s leaving to show us their stamp, I can fake one for you. C’mon — let’s just GO already!”
The boys exit the car and start jete-ing and pas de bourree-ing up the asphalt hill toward the entrance and I’m right behind — until my cheap white pantyhose start to sag, then fall, first to my knees, and then my ankles. Suddenly I’m a punk rock penguin. “Hey you guys! Wait up!” But they’re already out of sight. “Dang it! I know they’re not gonna let me in this club without a cute boy to grease my way inside! Augh!” But I’m forced to stop and begin a complete do-over on my hose: rolling them all the way down, pulling them all the way back up. As I’m trying to wad the played-out elastic into the rolled-up waistband of my skirt, suddenly it’s Randall and Trey running towards me, out of breath, and hissing “Go! Go! Go! GO! Turn around and go! Get in the car and go!”
“What? What is it?!” I’m hopping like a dork as my hose have gone south again, but the boys grab my arms and hustle me to the car and slam the doors. “WHAT? What is it?!!”
Trey’s in a fetal position and panting in the back seat, and Randall looks at me from the passenger side with wide eyes and says “Your DAD is the security cop working the door tonight.”
Did I pee? Did I cry? Did I pass out? Maybe I did a little bit of all three.
But right now what I gotta make absolutely clear — is that if I had been the first one in the door at that bar that night — y’all wouldn’t know me now. I’d still be grounded. I’d be 48 years old in my high school bedroom, with my B-52s posters and my 8-Track player, having my fish sticks and Chung King chinese food slipped under the door. I’d still be wearing a Journey baseball jersey and my eyes would have turned white like those fish that live in underwater caves and have never seen the sun.
But thanks to some cheap-ass pantyhose, there I am that night in the parking lot of a gay bar, in my car with my best friends, all of us hyperventilating — until Trey and Randall look at each other and both start laughing hysterically. Then I start laughing, and we all laugh until we almost throw up.
Finally, Trey pops up from the back seat and asks “Hey what about that other club on Moreland Ave? The Cove? Randall, didn’t your friend William say that The Cove uses blacklight door stamps?”
“Yeah, I think Willy got in there with just some yellow high-lighter on his wrist.”
“And I think the Cove stays open till 5AM”
Then, still giddy from laughing and still flushed with the relief of almost getting caught, to my utter amazement I hear myself say “Okay, let’s try it. I THINK WE COULD GET IN THERE.”
And that’s exactly what we did.