Nineties New York: a night at Click N Drag

The club Jackie 60 is long gone, as is the Meatpacking District of my 20s, but the memories vividly live on… 

The night of my first real date with Jane, I was so nervous that I drank a huge vodka and orange beforehand at my apartment, gulping it as if it were fortified with essential vitamins and minerals—essentially, confidence and desirability—and I needed an emergency infusion. I had met her while out with friends, and after a few charged phone conversations, the kind where you’re in a constant state of delight and being crushed-out, we had planned to go out with some of her friends at Jackie 60 in the Meatpacking District. 

It was the club’s Click N Drag Night. Click N Drag, Jane explained to me, is about cyberfetish, a dress code they supposedly strictly enforce. I wasn’t really sure what cyberfetish clothing was, but I knew that none of my clothing was either cyber or fetish, so I improvised wth a leopard-print faux-fur coat from the ’60s that had been handed down by my grandmother, lots of black eyeliner, and dark-red lipstick. The woman at the door was tall, pale, and fleshy, her plumpness spilling over the shiny metal breastplate that sheathed her bare torso. She wore a Viking hat that reminded me of one of those Looney Tunes opera characters. She pulled back the red-velvet rope and let me in. So far, so good.

I bought a Jack and soda and had a look around. The place was like a fairy tale come to life. There was a tall, skinny guy (I think it was a guy) covered head to toe in silver duct tape, with holes for his eyes and nostrils. He was accompanied by someone dressed as the White Rabbit, if the White Rabbit lived on Skid Row. On stage in the next room, there were lithe naked dancers who were squeezing paint on each other from the kind of plastic ketchup dispensers you get at a roadside hamburger stand. Everywhere, it seemed the light was dim and milky, ambiguous illumination for an ambiguous evening.

Nina, Jane’s friend arrived. If this was Frank Oz’s wonderland, Nina was the Cheshire Cat, always cryptic and omniscient. She engaged in none of the conventional small talk of everyday people—hi, how are you, how was work, how was your weekend, the weather’s nice tonight—preferring to be tantalizingly oblique. And yet she conveyed extreme knowingness. It was as if she knew so much that she could no longer bear to be linear; it was just too boring.

Nina was wearing her usual ensemble: faded Levi’s hanging on bony hips, white tank top, and black furry Kongol hat. This being an occasion, she had added a black feather boa to the mix. Her skin was blue-white, her hair blue-black, and her pale blue eyes had been lined again and again with smudgy kohl pencil. I went over, said hello, and tried unsuccessfully to have a conversation with her, and then she vanished. 

Within moments, a group of women came up to me. One of them spoke for the group. She had short hair and chunky character glasses—she looked like a casting director’s idea of a nerdy guy. She asked me if I was waiting to see the dentist. All I could think to say was, “No.” (The drinks might have given me courage, but they did not give me language, sadly.) She wanted me to join her and her friends at a club called Hellfire around the block. “That’s a wonderful coat, and you’re a beautiful woman, and they would love you there. You should come with us,” she said. “It’ll be fun.”

Nina, suddenly full of purpose, came and stood at my side. Chunky Glasses said, “Oh, is this your friend?” Then she asked Nina if she was waiting for her plane to arrive. Nina just looked at her. Chunky G repeated her line, and Nina silently maintained her gaze. Chunky got the hint and said, “You guys have a lot of talking to do, a lot of catching up. I can see that. Okay, have a good night.” And she left.

Nina turned to me and said, “What kind of line was that? I mean, what was that?” Then she folded back up into her unknowable self and walked away.