It is Friday night here at La Plage, a Bordeaux nightclub boasting five separate dance floors. Clutching the hands of my travel companions, I squeeze through the thudding labyrinth. We press on into the Third Room (the Third Circle of Hell, perhaps), a cube that backs into a massive shrine to our god, the DJ.
This deity chants “LADIES!” for reasons unknown, every seven seconds. Soon enough it blends into the background thump of his 2009 remixes, whose beats reverberate off the concrete walls and all the way through my fingertips.
A birthday girl cradling a bottle of Grey Goose has hoisted herself atop the table in the “lounge” area. LADIES! A cluster of people is stationed directly in front of the DJ. Their ages range from 15 to 55; some bodies are wiry and spritely, others full and sumptuous. They do not speak. They have nothing in common; nothing, that is, but a true talent for line dancing. Together they bunch and spread, hips gesticulating. They do not smile. This is a Serious Matter. They close their eyes, grimace from the exertion. LADIES!
Drawing from my wealth of international clubbing experience, I compare La Plage to a more familiar haunt: Toad’s Place. La Plage is in ~*Europe*~. La Plage offers us the choice of no less than five bars and five DJs, rather than “Stage, or sticky floor?” The good-looking Frenchman I’ve just met offers me a cigarette, rather than groping blindly at my hips. He invites me to an after-party at 5 a.m., when La Plage closes, a full four hours after the Woad’s DJ graces guests with “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
Right now it’s 1:30, past Toads’ and my bedtime, and my ankles, perched precariously atop high heels, are starting to give way. I grasp the sweatered arm of the Frenchman. I admire his scruff and his clove-tinted scent. I’m starting to hate my dancing. I apologize. He’s starting to hate his non-fluent English. He apologizes.
“Oh my God, no way,” I encourage him. “You are so good!”
I hate my hollow response, an octave higher than my normal register, even more than my dancing. I’m tired of talking to him. I scan the room for my friends.
And, just like that, La Plage may as well be Toad’s.
There are a few clumps of males who aren’t yet intoxicated enough to approach the girls they want to approach. Their full cups touch their lips with twitching anxiety, emptying fast. There are several stiletto-girls. They move their hips, eyes darting all around, trying to meet someone else’s. There’s that one short old guy who’s alone. He slithers around the room, grabbing at everyone, spawning equal parts laughter and revulsion.
And there’s me, somewhere in between the periphery and the vortex, searching for my security blanket — my friends — who have dispersed to pursue their own fleeting flirtations.
It doesn’t matter whether the men smell like cigarettes or Natty Lite, or whether that drunk girl is draining Grey Goose or Dubra. It doesn’t matter if we’re in a five-room megaplex on a foreign continent or in a pregame in our common rooms. All of us — the dancers, the drinkers, the floaters, the clusterers, that old guy and me — we’re all here for the same reason.
We’re at Toad’s and we’re at La Plage for that moment when our groping eyes meet another’s groping eyes and, for just that second, we’re assured that, yes, we are wanted. We’re there for that one song that plays halfway through the night; when, for three and a half minutes, our friends are all dancing at the same time and with the same abandon. For those three and a half minutes when we don’t doubt that we are someone who has friends. Best friends.
I have one rule when it comes to places like Toad’s: Leave before the end of the last song. When I hear Bon Jovi start up, I roll out. Fast. I know that it’s superstitious and arbitrary. But I also know you won’t reach that transient euphoria during the last song (especially when that song is literally about clinging to a shred of hope). And you don’t want to be the one whose search was fruitless, who drilled the hope into the ground.
Tonight, at La Plage, it’s not an issue. There’s no way I’ll make it to 5 a.m. I can’t even stand in heels anymore. So my friends and I leave behind all five pounding dance rooms and the sweatered Frenchman. We decided we did not love each other. As we walk out, our eyelids droop. Our makeup is muddled with sweat. Our hair is frazzled. I am barefoot. My feet try to stretch out, padding against concrete.
It’s not the corner of Broadway and Elm, but it could be. The empty streets echo with our laughter. I am relieved because I do have my security blanket. It’s not love tonight, but I did find my friends and we are linking arms and I am not alone. “It was a good night.” We move like blood through a grey vein.
Contact Caroline Wray at firstname.lastname@example.org .