Somewhere in the pages of my mother's supersecret blackmail photo album, there are pictures of me with fishnet stockings on my arms and creepy black eyeliner on my face. The neatly printed caption beneath reads something like: "Our daughter's brief stint in the puberty-induced purgatory of teen angst and passive-aggressive rebellion."
Let's just say I came out the other side and have since been sighted in pastels, but I still have an awe-inspiring accumulation of black clothes in my closet. And Saint Saturday at Purgatory convinced me it's a damned good thing I never got rid of them.
Basically, Saint Saturday is a big freaky-ass party that goes down at Purgatory — a dance club located on Marina Mile in Fort Lauderdale — the fourth Saturday of every month. A friend told me it was a not-to-miss experience, so I donned a black halter-top and infiltrated this fetish/goth/anything-goes playground. Cover was $10, parking was free, and people-watching possibilities were plentiful.
After my eyes adjusted to the abrupt darkness, though, I realized I'd misjudged the scene. I walked in expecting packs of surly, eye-lined, black-clad brats trying to piss off their parents. But I'd stumbled into the underground world of a strange, sensual, surprisingly happy subculture. Apparently, some pouty adolescents grew up without growing out of their goth phases.
Drinks: Since beer makes busting into alien subcultures easy, I pushed past plastic-wearing patrons to secure a spot at the larger of the two bars, right next to two women in serious liplock. Make no mistake: People show up at this party for the beats and freaks, and alcohol is just the lube that lathers up an already-kinky crowd. Of course, drink prices ain't anything special enough to text your posse over. The bartender told me domestic beers were $4, imports $5, and well drinks $5 to $8.
Before I had a chance to order, I had my first run-in with Paul, a dude who looked surprisingly good in his long, pleated skirt. He was confident, perky, and possibly on drugs. "So, why'd you come to this?" I asked him.
"I'm not married," he said, brandishing his unadorned left ring finger at me. "I just wanna have fun." He also told me that Saint Saturday is one of the "tamer" fetish fests and that there are other parties that are way freakier.
"See that guy?" Paul asked, pointing out the dude in shorts ordering drinks to my left. "He couldn't get into one of the other parties dressed like that."
Bartenders: The chick-and-dude bartending duo popped and poured drinks in record time; the guy bartender, Kitova, brought my Bud Light in seconds. But speaking of tame attire: These two were dark-featured and beautiful, but they wouldn't have been allowed in some of the freakier parties Paul mentioned. Their wholesome good looks seemed off the mark in a place where plastic and pleather, sultry vamps, and mesh-wearing men ruled the night. But honestly, if these two coulda-been-Abercrombie-models traded their jeans for fetish wear, they woulda been smoking-hot.
Ambience: Purgatory is mostly dance floor and bar. After draining my Bud Light, I abandoned the bar and pushed past the black shrouds that divided the party area from the more intimate spots. Sitting areas provided couples with couches on which to make out and smoke cigarettes. Candles glowed from the tops of high tables.
I approached a dark-haired woman with neat eyeliner sitting alone at a candle-lit table. Smoking a cigarette, she wore mesh fingerless gloves and a look of general disenchantment. "I'm here for my boyfriend," she said, gesturing at the man making his way over to us. Plainly dressed but giddy, he introduced himself as George and told me her name was Gloria.
"You guys been dancing?" I asked.
"We just got here five minutes ago," he told me. "We're gonna dance in a bit. Love dancing." Gloria exhaled and peered at George.
"She doesn't look thrilled about that," I said.
"Ohhh, you should see her — she can dance all night," he told me. "She's just in a weird mood today. Aren't you, honeybunny?" She squinted in response.
Though I didn't see a whip on Gloria, I sensed George had just earned a lashing. I made a beeline for the dance floor.
Out on the floor, '80s rock videos flashed across a big-screen TV. Strobe lights flickered over the dancers, catching on their plastic outfits, rendering them slightly more than shuffling silhouettes. Go-go girls, one in a shiny black corset and the other in a plastic-looking bikini top, swiveled their hips to the throbbing trance. The shorts of the one in the corset weren't doing much to keep her butt cheeks at bay, which might be why she almost immediately collected a pack of male spectators, staying faithfully at her feet like acolytes. After all, she had to come down from her post sooner or later.
Customers: Paul found me back near the bar, mindlessly gazing at Corset Go-Go Girl's ass.
"So why do most people come here?" I asked him.
"Entertainment," he said with a nod at the dancer. "Music, fashion, atmosphere. And, of course, the possibility of interacting with other crazy fuckers."
The whole place was starting to feel like a creepy, sexy high school cafeteria, where everyone was trying to lurk in a corner, anonymous and misunderstood. The lights were low, it was smoky and sinister, and tonight these people were just electric, kinky versions of their daytime alter egos. They came to shun mainstream music, shun mainstream wear, and, at the end of the night (hopefully?), shun mainstream sex for something a little more exciting. Paul put it to me straight: "I like being dominated by beautiful women."
I caught a glimpse of a cowboy-hat-wearing silhouette out on the dance floor. Men wore rubber pants, and their suspenders hung limply at their sides. A hefty woman's plus-size cleavage was spilling out of a lacy white corset. I could have caught a school of marlins with all the fishnet present. It was all there, from renfest wear to studded boots, from plastic bras to BDSM gear.
Purgatory implies waiting. There's a damned good reason I don't paint my nails black anymore: Shreds of maturity start to stick eventually, and you realize employers aren't big on the maybe-I-do-drugs-or-maybe-I-just-look-like-it style. What about the denizens of Purgatory? You have to wonder if these people are waiting to outgrow a phase or if they missed the boat completely, or maybe they just really like dressing up and dancing to sexified '80s music.
Music: Paul called the music EBM, electronic body music — a blend of dark trance, electric '80s, European goth, and pretty much all the great shit that other clubs aren't playing. DJs spun everything from David Bowie to Depeche Mode. I heard Lacrimosa, Marilyn Manson, Dead or Alive, and the Killers.
Gloria grabbed me at the bar around 1 a.m. After lamenting that she felt too "old" to be here (she told me she was 52, though I'd have guessed 35) but that she usually "dresses freakier," George cropped up, and the two of them pulled me off to meet Aldo, AKA DJ 16 Bit, one of the three DJs at the party. In the DJ booth, Aldo, over 40, said he'd been in this scene since he was a teenager, and apparently he never bothered to leave it. For Aldo, the scene was about the music. Gothwear? What gothwear? It's all about rockin' out to some prime Depeche. Come on home, kids.
Later, Paul was on the dance floor with a chick in stilettos and blood-red hair. She towered over him, but he raised his drink to the ceiling and got down as best he could in his skirt. There it was — the Purgatory version of warm and fuzzy. I sure hope Paul got dominated later that night. And, Mom, I know it won't stop you from showing those angst-inducing photos at my wedding, but I want you to know that my passive-aggressive teen rebellion could have been not only never-ending but also way kinkier.