September 16, 2017 at 11:29 pm #3553
10 years later…
October 31. 7:19 pm.
1 Page Avenue.
I’m standing in front of the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. They’ve got an understated display of one of their bestsellers in the window.
By celebrated local author Solomon Black.
I tease a smile and admire the cover art – no apocalyptic infernos blazing behind a gauche serif font, no, nothing so sensational. Just a matte black cover with muted gray words and a solitary tendril of silver smoke rising up from the bottom.
Mr. Black is nothing if not respectfully tasteful and despite his best efforts never desirous of being overly praised. If Asheville were expecting a scathing narrative volleying blame and reminding the city that of the 347 people who died a decade ago tonight, one was his sister…they’ll be keenly disappointed.
I suppose I never mentioned Teeny had a brother. Why would I? When she was so delightfully interesting and he was not. Still, he possesses a gift for the written word and never minding the fact that he’s painfully dull, reclusive, and frequently avails himself of a cold bed and a handful of benzos…he’s quickly becoming a new fascination of mine. Especially, after I read his account of the Spook Fire.
Oh yes, that’s insipid nomenclature the locals have devised for the event.
I told you they thought they were clever.
But that’s neither here nor there…
So let me speak on the everywhere.
Everywhere is to my back, on my left, my right. Everywhere is Asheville.
I can’t be anywhere else tonight.
Behind me, a plump lady in too-tight jeans cups her hands around a cigarette and lights. She mutters something to her drunk companion, husband by the look of disgust I see reflected in the glass at her smoking.
“Yankee’s daddy probably paid him good to gloss over the truth…”
She’s talking about Trent. You didn’t believe I’d forgotten about the Dead of the Dixie Society did you? Of course, I didn’t. How could I? They’re my favorite animals in the zoo and after the media storm that pounded them into tripe, how could anyone else?
Well now, I apologize, I’m being grandiose.
At best they’re just more victims of one of the worst disasters in the state’s history, remembered in passing with a quiet frown or a “bless their hearts”…at worst…
They’re locally hated.
Aside from Officer Taylor and some no name out-of-towner, they’re the only survivors of the fire…excluding poor Ms. Black…
And Tea House – but that’s a story for later.
Are you smiling yet? Too bad. I smile often and at the most inappropriate times.
But I’m sure the wheels are turning, nonetheless. Officer Taylor’s gears were certainly grinding the minute he interviewed them at the hospital. Things didn’t add up, stories weren’t entirely straight and the ones that were ended up sounding more convoluted on paper than a Stephen King classic. It all ended up as one big legal crucible of speculation and flimsy accusation. And Mr. Black’s haunting account of a community consumed by the frenzy of a witch hunt precluded a decade of bad blood and divided loyalties.
The novel admirably glosses over his own personal tragedy; the death of his beloved little sister and the agony his family endured in the media frenzy. Instead, it’s a biting examination of that primal need that humanity succumbs to when they’re bereft of answers and surrounded by scorched earth – to seek out those that don’t conform and haul them up by their necks to the highest branch.
But there’s so many details he just didn’t get quite right.
Details. Remember those?
I always do. When I can come rightly by them.
My entire reason for coming here tonight.
It’s not just a fondness for a good read on social commentary and a decent flute of Laurent-Perrier that brings me to the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar…
…it’s what lies beneath.
I turn and disappear into the alleyway, down the spiral steps. Already I see the erratic pulse of a red light, feel the rumble of the bass and hear the steady sizzle of the neon sign.
Esse Eck’s – Girls, Girls, Girls.
Maybe someone in this city is clever after all.
It’s also funny because tonight, the boys are back in town…but the girls never left.
Now you’re smiling.
That’s right. After 10 years, it seems the gang’s all here. They don’t know that yet. But I do. And they will soon.
Details just can’t help themselves. They just have to come together eventually.
Esse Eck’s – the place to be seen and be obscene.
That’s the tagline anyway.
In truth, Esse Eck’s is the kind place where someone goes to feel better about themselves or forget about themselves – in no particular order.
Everyone’s welcome here, and most everyone accepts the invitation. There’s fat folks, skinny folks, young folks, middle aged folks looking to remember their peak years, hot girls, fuggos, small girls, tall girls, dykes, fags, whites, blacks, browns, reds and one man who’s painted himself green, leather enthusiasts, sorostitutes, frat boys, tatted boys, trap queens, rap kings, nerds, bikers, tweakers, users and abusers, gawkers, poets, musicians, normals on a social adventure and those few unknowable faces like myself looking for something.
I see two right away. Red and the Suit. How inconvenient. But I don’t have time for that. I’ve got a club to navigate.
Well, it technically holds the designation of a tittie bar, but that’s only to the uninitiated. Sure Esse’s always has a choice display of gyrating women for sale, but that’s only part of its charm. To my right and left, flanking a dancefloor of churning bodies, of every imaginable kind, there’s the working girls. They call themselves dancers, and that’s not untrue, they do dance, but they also fuck and suck to dangerously addictive specificities – for a fee. The best girls get the primo spots upfront, established on private stages, which are alcoves cut into the enormous walls, dusted with glitter that flashes under the hot red, purple, and pink lights. The stages are framed by L shaped couches, ready to snare the big prey, field dress them, and make trophies of their cash. The worst girls and the new girls work the crowd, offering platitudes, sloppy navel shots and discreet handjobs.
Adjust your britches and stick with me. Sex is in the name and while there’s plenty of sticky happenings in every corner, I mentioned that was only part of the club’s charms.
Asheville is an artist’s oasis. That includes it’s night life. While the front of the house is all suck and blow, smoke machines and glowing cocktails, the back of the house is reserved for the higher elements. Performance pieces, live music, a crooked little art gallery, and even a curiously sequestered reading room.
There’s something for all passions down here. What was once a series of old basements and meat cellars is now a circus of sweat, sex, music and beauty in every medium. That’s why there’s so little actual decor. Remove all the colorful occupants and you’re left with a shell of limestone, cigarette smoke and anachronistic furnishings.
There are private accommodations with more elegant accoutrement for those who actually want the dignity of stowing their boots at the foot of a bed, but those are reserved for high rollers and by appointment only.
I’m shifting my way through a throng of screaming girls. They’re snapping pictures and cheering as one of them gets a mouthful of tongue from a floor girl. I relieve one of her drink, but she doesn’t notice and I keep moving.
I scan the crowd and catch sight of a dusky beauty with serious curves.
My my, one of the hottest peppers in the patch now, but she’s never been wrapped too tight. The fire and all that passed between then and now has only managed to loosen the coil. Still, I imagine that doesn’t matter to the guys and gals eager to fall under her very literal whip.
I turn and my eye falls on pretty Fiona who’s sitting at the table with her. Man alive, how the mighty have fallen! She’s still fine glass of bourbon, but there’s dust on the bottle, sadness in her mouth and shadows under her eyes.
Trent’s not hard to spot. He’s leaned against the bar, some desperate redhead elbow to elbow with him practically screaming in his ear. She’s asking for his autograph and apparently has serious questions about his latest book on relationship counseling. His smile is sharp and that dumb bitch doesn’t know how close she is to getting cut.
Ash has just wandered in, looking like a man who’s just crawled out of the desert and fallen face to the mud into an oasis. He corrects himself but I can still see the relief on his face. For him, it’s never been about the drinking, it’s been about the drowning, throwing himself into this pool of writhing strangers and hoping he can join them in blessed anonymity.
Someone shoulders me, mutters an apology and makes for one of the dancers without so much as a side glance. I catch the scent of Buncombe County green and know him in an instant. Head down with a chain gang of curses on his mouth, there goes Jimbo. He cleans up good when he’s spoiling to get dirty. But I’m not fooled, he’s down on his luck again and there’s a good chance he’s here to palm some cash from one of the primo girls in exchange for giving her a quick study on pharmacopeia.
I don’t catch Brian or Chloe, but they’re here somewhere. No matter, I have all night.
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