Manhattan was alive with unbelievable possibilities and temptations.
Over the next few months, it's promise repeated lured me across the Hudson. On one particularly memorable occasion, a faded flyer brought me to a basement address in an unremarkable neighborhood. I walked past it six times before mustering the nerve to go inside.
Seventh time's a charm, I thought. My Jehovah's Witness upbringing told me the phrase was rooted in pagan beliefs, which made it all the more appropriate for the bacchanal in which I was about to participate. Feeling like eyes were watching from every passing taxi, I hung my head and scooted down the grungy stairs.
Over the peeling black door a plaque read, Dungeon Theater. I pushed it open and the squeal of hinges added as much to the atmosphere as the subterranean entrance. But there was a thrill coursing through my veins, a thrill like I'd never experienced before. It was unstoppable as a landslide that pushes cars and houses before it; it was like an invisible hand dragging me by the balls. If the sign over the door had proclaimed - Enter at your peril - I still would have skulked lustfully through it.
It was dark in the vestibule but the air was sweet and narcotic; inhaling it sent tingles through my limbs. Behind scratched Plexiglas, a leather clad young Latino with a partially blond Mohawk performed a visual assessment while sucking a lollypop.
I cleared my throat. "How much?"
He gestured with his lollypop toward a sign. I slipped crumpled bills through the slot, and he took an unusually long time smoothing them out while staring at me. Then he hit a buzzer and a door to my right underneath a NO EXIT sign swung open.
Inside the door, rows of theater seats hovered in the center of a cavern with walls fashioned from a random mix of stone and mortar. On one of them, a movie was projected right onto the stone - in it, a rather large altar boy was doing something unholy to a priest.
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I continued surveying the room. A large bald man sat slouched in the front row fondling himself; the flickering glow of the movie cast a ghostly light on his perspiring dome. Next to the movie, a dim, amber light from a corridor beckoned visitors to see more of Dungeon Theater. A shadow dancing up a wall called out to my inner explorer and my limbs tingled more than ever.
Slipping into that corridor, I passed numerous side nooks that resembled catacombs where ancient pagan rituals were performed. It was Sodom. I'd seen a movie about the infamous city which depicted it as Stone Age and fire-lit, with people oiled and writhing like a mating ball of serpents, just before God dropped boulders of fire on them.
I'd seen no shiny mass of communal decadence yet, but I kept searching.
A petite young man in his tightie-whities was sitting on an old sofa in a nook, dirty-blond hair obscuring in his face. After he sniffed something from a little brown vial, his locks fell back, revealing his true age. He stared for a minute, face narrow and exotic, and then he beckoned me with one hand while rubbing his disconcertingly youthful torso with the other. I wanted to move on, but couldn't.
Awhile later, the next nook opened to a large room lit by a fireplace with an altar-like platform in the center. The men surrounding it were reduced to silhouettes by the fires flickering glow, nothing more than masculine shapes shifting and climbing about the scene. I also heard the occasional slap and moan, but couldn't be sure if it came from here or from some other as yet unexplored but equally depraved nook in what must be Satan's personal playground. I half-expected to see the host himself somewhere, lurking in a corner, eyes glowing, quietly thrilled by my arrival.
I squeezed closer, shirt open and disheveled, nostrils burning, boldness coming from somewhere. A man stepped aside mumbling something I didnt hear, and I moved right up the edge of the platform. I was mesmerized by the sight of a pale young guy with bushy red hair, down on all fours, naked, committing numerous sins at once. A chiseled man with wild dreadlocks was pounding away behind him, while another at the front was shoving a glistening penis into the pale guys mouth. Other hands felt about indiscriminately, clutching, pinching, caressing.
Dreadlock looked down at me, muscles tense as he thrust and stared, hair flailing like Medusas snakes. Appropriately, I turned to stone; I couldnt look away. Then my hand appeared amidst the scene as if it belonged to someone else, boldly stroking the back of his muscular thigh and working its way upward.
As Pale Guys holes took on all comers, I indulged myself, deliriously detached, filled with equal parts awe, disgust and lust. I felt myself begin to hyperventilate as the energy changed. A hand landed on my butt. Another touched my crotch and squeezed the erection I hadn't realized I had. It was Mohawk from the door, molesting another lollypop.
"Come with me," he whispered, "I have a special spot."
I tipped into the house at three a.m.
My mother shifted on the sofa and flicked on the light. She had the pained look a mother gets when her only child - which shed spent hours in agony pushing into the world - gravely disappoints her. Plus, she'd been sitting in the dark for God only knew how long, never a sign of anything good.
"Where have you been?"
I was too tired, thrilled and disgusted with myself to lie.
"Out", I said. "For once, I was just Out. Now Im going to bed. G'night."
I'd sniffed cocaine with a really odd stranger, and we talked about life, love, and sex. I could still smell Dungeon Theatre's various misdemeanors and sins on my skin; could still hear the moans, the slaps, the breathing; could still feel the doormans blossoming warmth as he backed himself onto me with an undulating sigh; could still hear the rhythmic blasphemies after I lost concern for his delicate parts. If tonight was any indication of what it felt like to be damned, then paradise was so over-rated.
"So this is how you repay me," she fired with enough anguish to stop an entire herd of prodigal sons, or just one who was still riding the high of his very first anonymous raunchy screw. "I've worked so hard to raise you in The Truth, and this is how you do me?" She snatched a tissue and blew noisily.
"I am so not up for this now."
She sprang up and grabbed my arm.
"As long as you're under this roof you will respect my rules; gallivanting around at all hours is the way of the world, Danté. We're Jehovah's Witnesses. Whatever you were doing, I know it wasnt Christian."
"I did hear Jesus mentioned once."
If a hole had opened in the floor it would have been welcomed. But it didn't, and, surprisingly, I was okay with that, too. I pulled my arm free and walked back to my room.
I'd danced with the devil and it had been a liberating experience - bordering on spiritual.
...My stomach was in knots as I stood under the hot water. I couldnt scrub myself hard enough as those memories of decadence spiraled down the drain with the dirty water. The only thoughts left lurking in my head where those that haunted any sexual degenerate who was ripping his mothers heart out; I knew she was out there, crying, bent in agony over something I couldnt control. I knew she was probably blaming herself, too, and wondering where she screwed up. I sank to my knees, drowning in my own tears, agony and frustration.
Then, beneath that steamy cascade, I began to pray harder than I'd ever prayed, all the while fighting off memories of earlier times when I'd been down on my knees engaging in the opposite of prayer. With all my heart, I asked God - like Jesus had before being crucified - to remove this particular burden from me.
Jesus still died in agony though, and when my knees began to ache and the water ran cold, I still loved men. ~