I barely know this guy. A friend of a friend of a friend would be the easiest way to describe my relationship with him. He is douchebag incarnate. A walking, talking Ed Hardy shirt. He owns a high rise apartment, has a hot tub in his living room, and hooks up with gorgeous women because he has enough money to buy tables at exclusive clubs all over the city. I am with him on a cold February night in 2014 not because I’m friends with him, but because I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Thursday night as a 23-year-old is the weekend. I got invited to a pregame at this lavish apartment with my then-roommate and two girls whom I only knew on a very surface level. A guy sitting at the front desk at the entrance to the building takes the four of us up to the penthouse. As I walk into the apartment, I think to myself how much I hate people who tweet or caption Instagram pictures with the phrase “My life is a movie,” but the guy who lives here can actually make that claim and back it up.
There’s a girl topless doing a line of cocaine off of a sword. There’s a guy behind a standalone bar making drinks for people. There are not one, not two, but three pinball machines in the living room. Why isn’t anyone using the hot tub? It’s all so obscene.
We head to a club nearby an hour after arriving at the penthouse. We sit at a table overlooking the rest of the club, and we can do whatever we want perched on high above the peasants below. Nothing of real consequence happens while inside the club. I drink tequila and cavort with girls so far out of my league that it’s a miracle I’m forming sentences at all. I make small talk with the guys who brought me here, asking them what they do for work and if this is something they do on a regular basis. The answer regarding work is ambiguous, but yes, they do in fact do this most weekends if they’re not in New York, L.A., or Belize.
We leave at 3:00 a.m. and no one in our group of 20 wants to go home. One call and we’re swept up by three Uber Blacks, where once again there are no rules. I’m not paying attention to where we’re going, and after repeated attempts to chip in for the Uber and the alcohol I’ve had, I stop offering. Money is not an object for these people, and if they don’t care then I certainly don’t.
It’s 37 degrees outside when we step out of the SUV. In the basement of an unassuming building on the west side of Chicago, something extraordinary is going on. It’s a little after three in the morning now and I’ve been drinking tequila sodas at a club for four hours. I should be in bed and any other Thursday I would be, but when someone is paying for all of this with no questions asked I feel as if I’d be doing a disservice to myself by not participating.
A white poster board taped to a wall in front of the entrance to the building reads “Party Down Here” in black permanent marker. In the basement, there is a coat check in a well-lit hallway being run by a guy named Steve. I know his name is Steve because it says so on his bowling shirt.
A black tarp hung up with nails separates this fluorescent processing area from the lunacy on the other side. The music is loud and trance-like, but I can tell that by paying five dollars to check your coat, you are also paying to get past the security in front of the tarp.
I check my coat for five dollars and one of the guards hands me a water bottle while simultaneously pulling back the tarp to let me through. The room I’m in is no bigger than a studio apartment. There are 40 to 50 people crammed inside, with a DJ at the front tinkering with switches and knobs and buttons. I laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all.
A girl grabs my head and sticks her tongue down my throat. I’m taken aback, and then I’m kissing her neck. I start to dance. No move is judged harshly. At one point, I even do the sprinkler and people take pictures of me on their phones and mimic my movements. All of this – the basement, the weird coat check guy, the red lights, and girls – it’s all dreamlike.
It’s so late and I haven’t slept and it feels like I’m floating above myself watching what I’m doing. Time does not exist in this seedy basement. I cringe when I think about how thirty minutes or three hours after I had been there I found Steve dancing and asked if he had any more water. He gave me a few sips of his and said, “music is life, bro” while I glugged. I replied back, without thinking, “It truly is, Steve.”
At 7:30 a.m. I step back out into the real world. I have no earthly idea where I am. My phone is dead, my eyes feel like they’re about to fall out of my head, and all I can think about is how I need to get to a phone so I can call in sick for work. .