Chico Rock’s wild tour of Madrid continued for the remainder of my study abroad stay. Every Friday night, I would climb across to his room through his balcony, and we would pregame in his room before heading down to Chueca to explore yet another gay bar or club. Or several.
Unbeknownst to me before deciding to study for a semester in the Spanish capital, Madrid is well-known around Europe for its gay quarter. Despite being an overwhelmingly Catholic country, gay marriage is completely legal in Spain. Gay lifestyle and culture is prominent, sometimes preposterous.
Named after the Spanish word for “crooked” (or “not straight”) centuries before Stonewall, Chueca has been through more transformations than a desperate pop star trying to cling on to relevancy. All up until the 20th century, Chueca housed the city’s outcasts—criminals, freaks and other social pariahs, certainly homosexuals and sexual deviants. After the authoritarian dictatorship of Francisco Franco ended with his death in 1975 the area became one of the epicenters of La Movida, a liberation of creative expression, disregard for traditional aesthetics and a new breed of popular culture. The equivalent of New Wave but with far more transsexuals and recreational drug use. I once heard that during the mid-80s you could swipe your finger through one of the sidewalk creases in Chueca and accumulate small residues of a certain white powder, just enough for a bump. The streets were literally littered with cocaine. Then came the 90s. Chueca got chic with designers like Diesel and Custo Barcelona opening up boutiques in the now quaint but quirky neighborhood. And today, the quarter is home to more yuppies and young couples than criminals. I’m pretty sure that if Pinkberry ever made it to the European continent, the first location in Madrid would be in Chueca.
But after dark if you turn the right (or wrong) corner, you can travel back to a reformed version of Chueca’s old days of debauchery, partying until the sun comes up. That’s what Chico Rock wanted me to experience. He was adamant about having me be a part of his outrageous nightlife stunts: sex clubs and dark alleys, unknown substances and after parties. He kept saying how this was how young guys partied in Madrid, every night. He kept pushing me, challenging me almost, to stay out later and keep drinking, or keep flirting with strangers, see how far I could go down the rabbit hole. Nevermind waking up at 3 p.m. the next day, missing all my morning classes, hungover and with blurred memory of the night before.
The thing was: it was just him and his friends engaging in these excessive habits. He just didn’t want to feel like the only one, so he made a big deal about how common and ordinary it was to be so erratic, but deep down he was all alone.
I was madly attracted to him, so I kept playing the game, trying to impress him and turning into the party boy I thought he wanted me to be. I didn’t realize how self-destructive his lifestyle was until one night. November 9, 2006, three weeks before I had to come back to the states. The night I thought I was going to die.
We end our night at Royal Cool, but that’s where the story starts. The largest gay club in Madrid, the club is a neon institution that thrives on the bass thumping loud, men sweating hard and inhibitions plummeting to a new low. This is what it takes to be Cool.
As soon as we walk in, a friend of Chico Rock’s walks up to him and offers him something. I’m guessing it’s either coke or poppers since I see them snorting it. Chico Rock asks him if he knows where he can get more, looking back at me and raising his eyebrows with anticipation. The friend says no. Chico Rock calls him a liar. The friend laughs and says he’s serious. So Chico Rock drops it.
About twenty seconds later, the friend turns back, waits until we both make eye contact with him and then signals us to follow him.
The three of us walk back into a brightly lit room behind the bar. It takes a minute for my eyes to readjust. The friend introduces me to a guy with dreadlocks I recognize from going out. He asks me if I want pills, assuming that I’m the one looking for drugs, that it’s my deal to be made. I look back at Chico Rock. He nods.
“Cuantas?” (How many?)
“Cuantas necesito?” (How many do I need?)
The dealer laughs and tells me they’re five euros each. I tell him to give me one. He leans closer to me as if going in for a hug and puts the pill in my hand. He whispers something in my ear, but I can’t understand it, something about this being on the house. Even behind closed doors, the music from the club resonates.
I open my hand and see that he’s given me two pills. I take one and hand it over to Chico Rock, but he shakes his hands and says, “They’re all yours.”
So I take them both.
I walk out of the room and realize that: I just swallowed not one, but two pills. I just swallowed not one, but two unknown pills. I just swallowed not one, but two unknown pills from a complete stranger. I just swallowed not one, but two unknown pills from a complete stranger at a random club overseas. I just swallowed not one, but two unknown pills from a complete stranger at a random club overseas and really, I'm all alone. I just swallowed not one, but two unknown pills from a complete stranger at a random club overseas and really, I'm all alone and I don’t even have my phone.
Not only do I not know if these pills are laced (certainly they are), but I’m not even exactly sure what I’ve taken.
I ask Chico Rock how many he has taken before and he says something like, “a half,” but he could’ve said, “one and a half.” It’s so loud in the club, and I hate repeating myself. Regardless of his answer, two definitely breaks the “take only half the pill” rule—a rule I’ve tried to ingrain in my head ever since I started going out when I was 16.
So get a little worried, and decide that if I start feeling funky (a.k.a. like I’m about to die), I’m just going to rush to the restroom and vomit the pills out. Who says drugs aren’t glamorous?
The dealer with the dreadlocks told me that he worked at the club. He was an under-the-table drug dealer employed by the very own venue to keep the dance floor busy until the early hours of the morning, to have people come back Saturday after Saturday after Friday after Wednesday, to get them addicted to Cool.
So I’m waiting for the damn pills to hit me, to see what’ll take to control my body’s reaction to them.
20 minutes. Nothing.
I keep imagining me overdosing and being taken to a hospital. The whole university institute there, my mother flying in to see me.
Then all of the sudden, I’m totally calm. I think, “If I’m going to die, I might as well die dancing my heart out, right?”
Then the pills hit me: the music starts to penetrate, the songs expand and the whole ambiance changes—the realization that every one there is exactly on the same drug you’ve just taken.
So I dance and talk and flirt with new friends. My hands start getting really cold and then really hot, and then I start to perspire. Random groups of people are approaching us and talking to us. But to me, these guys are just mannequins, looking for colored pills to bring them back to life.
It’s 7 a.m., Royal Cool is about to close, so I say good bye to my minute friends and head out the front door, grabbing a “come back next time” glossy flyer with a picture of well-toned, blue-tinted torso on my way out.
But it’s on the metro that the pills, these drugs, whatever the fuck I took, really start to hit me. I sit there and just start thinking, and then I get paranoid and wonder if the people riding with me on the train can listen to my thoughts. “Am I saying these things out loud?” I ask myself. Of course not, you idiot. Or wait?
Then I get super nervous. I get off my seat, look around, looking confused. I feel like I’ve been riding the metro for hours. Surely I’ve missed my stop. Surely I’m somewhere far, far away past my home stay. The train stops at the next station, and I realize that it’s only the first stop. I’ve been on the train for two minutes.
I sit back down and take a look down at my hands. The glossy flyer I’d been carrying has been twisted and crumbled almost beyond recognition. The toned body now deformed. As soon as I start involuntarily grinding my teeth, the light bulb goes on: Speed!
I swallowed not one, but two speed pills from a complete stranger at a random club overseas and really, I was all alone and I didn’t even have my phone.
I get to my house and realize that Chico Rock has my keys. The light in his room is off; he’s not home yet. I can’t even remember the last time I saw him. It starts to rain, and I start to feel like shit.
But I head back out into the night to try to find him.
To be continued…