* * *
Google maps reminds me that I am 500 yards from the destination after I have just cautiously taken a left onto a poorly lit gravel parking lot. Night clubs seem to like the appeal of appearing incognito all the while being inherently orgasmic in our thoughts. I deliberately squeeze my mini-van into a tight corner at the far end. The place reminds me of my hometown in India. Gravel streets, moody street lights. In front of me are dirty stairs leading to a first floor dilapidated French style apartment. This area is somewhere around the Georgia Tech campus if I remember correctly. It must be a student residence of some sort. What can be happening behind those white shimmering curtains of that upstairs apartment?
The nightclub is in my rear view mirror. From the angle at which I am parked, I can see a room with floor-to-ceiling windows. This must be one of the lounging rooms. The room seems empty save for a refrigerator with a glass door. The room illuminates in a soft purple color. I will not have a dab of that color in my house for a million bucks. I shift my view from the rear view to the side view mirror. I can see two men standing outside dressed in black security uniform. Bouncers. How appropriate looking with their muscles and height.
It’s November and it’s 11:53pm. There are very few cars in the parking lot. Not a great place to go when you want to get lost in the crowd. Yelp.com gave Tao good ratings. So, did it get bad press recently? I roll down a window to hear. There is a faint hum of the Latin music. Good, it’s not a Bollywood night. We are so many of us out in the world, us Indians, still it’s not easy to get lost.
I turn off the engine and step out. I try to shake my head off. An Indian-American mom driving a mini-van in the heart of downtown Atlanta on a Saturday night is as desperate as one can get. It’s alright, I tell myself, after all, this is my country that has blessed me with the freedom of expression.
I see the bouncers looking at each other. I smile into the air and walk towards the front door. The big black board says that entry fee before midnight is 10$, and after is 20 bucks. Not bad for a 50% discount. As I look inside, past the bouncer’s face, one turns to leave while the other smiles at me kindly.
“Hey, how is it going?” I say aloud even though my palms are sweaty and my heart is thundering with baseless anxiety.
“Hmm, Ma’am, do you know it’s our Latino Gay night?”
I freeze, withdraw my left arm that I have raised for him to tie the ticket ribbon around and the right arm which has the 20 dollar note.
“Oh really? But, Tao’s Twitter didn’t mention that.” I say confidently, hoping that their slip up will write me an all-night pass into the forbidden land.
“What’s that?” He asks me.
“Ahh, no problem, thanks!” I tell him quickly as if realizing that this place got more sinister after what he had just said. I look around him to see the soft light from inside filling up our feet with a fog. Behind those big wooden front doors, there is a huge staircase that leads to a place I long to be in. To be in the presence of the sensations that come with the imaginary thoughts of belongingness. Their one night of inclusion and social acceptance means an Indian-American mom who desperately wants to go clubbing doesn’t get that chance to. But, we all have thoughts and bodies that are made for sin, don’t we? I resolve to try this some other night before I turn back.
I see two women, must be those chic millennials – that I so want to be, walk toward us. I am 2 feet away from them, when I say, “Hey ladies, it’s Latino Gay night.” As soon as I say that I feel my face flushed and I wonder if that came out mockingly. I didn’t mean to say it that way, I really didn’t.
They look at each other and as if they are continuing their previous conversation say almost at the same time, “That explains it.” They giggle and without breaking their stride, walk past me at an angle to steps that seem to lead downstairs from the middle of the building.
I turn over my shoulders to the right to see where they are going and turn back to the bouncer. “You walk down those steps into the cellar and there is a bar. Be safe now. Good night.” He says getting busy with two male patrons who walk up to him. As the two guys pay and disappear out of sight, I sense the awkwardness of my stare when I re-focus my gaze on the bouncer’s eyes. I straighten my head to see three men park and get out of a silver Mustang and start walking toward us. We are all judging one another with our limited understanding of our world yet have the civility to keep our thoughts to ourselves.
I am almost hysterical as I walk up to my car. I quickly throw my clutch into the passenger seat and drop into the driver’s seat closing the door behind me with a slam. I quickly take stock of all the cars in the parking lot. A big white van with only two windows on the side. A black Mercedes with a big pink furry mustache on the front bumper, an old Plymouth sedan with duct tape for one rear view window.
What happens when we exercise our choices and try to do something different than is expected of us? When the sun sets on a Saturday evening in my suburban home in JohnsCreek, there is a norm that follows. For me, my tradition is my motherhood. I have given myself a pass, one night where my kids are asked to sleep without me having to tuck them or read to them before bed. For which I feel guilty and miserable, just like how I feel sitting in the car now.
I turn to my right and see two men in the front row seats of their car, two cars down from mine, peering at me from the driver’s side window. It is hazy and so dark that I can barely see them. I still reach to my door lock and pull it down to hear the click. I look back at them and they are still watching and smiling at me.
There is a momentary disappointment in the aftermath of this excursion, but at this point, there is no path forward. So I turn the key, reverse my car and slowly inch myself out of the parking lot.
To my left, there is a car trunk open and two men in drag are picking up the remaining pieces of their outfits. One guy has thick bushy eyebrows and one is very skinny, and both of them look very tall as they hunch over the trunk. They both look at me. They are wearing heavy makeup and one of them reminds me of the Venetian masks that I had seen so many times in the movies. One has a long white bridal dress in his hands that he pulls out the trunk. The other guy who is holding a guitar box waves at me. I swallow and look away. I am not like this, please, believe me – I want to tell them. I am looking ahead of me and mouthing, “It’s OK.”
As, I try to maneuver a right turn onto the main road from the gravel, a car is taking a left into the lot. I cannot tell these two men apart at all in my head – don’t they have a word for that when you can’t recognize the distinct features between two people of a different race? I see small faces, doubtful eyes but bellies full of courage as we make eye contact. I am grateful that I had to slow down long enough to remember their faces talking to me. See, we are immigrants, we are in the minority, we are Latinos, we are gay, how much else can we lose in terms of identity?
As I drive back home, I think of what I have made of my life, my freedom and my own desire to have choices. It is one thing to be here and not know what and who you are. But to choose what you want to be and what to do with this one amazing life is within you. So, listen to those crackles in the dark, the ones of desire and longingness to be the best you can be. The ones that are forbidden and those of love that don’t follow a norm. You know what I think, if they need some, let them have it. Love is something that I can give them without even knowing that I had plenty of it to begin with.
* Tao: Name of the night club changed on purpose.