I stood alone in a long line in front of the Tropicana, wearing a white lace baby doll dress, black, heeled boots and a studded denim vest. I was hot. My face was sticky and the sweat had ruined my makeup on the long trek up from Brooklyn. It was my first time in the Bronx.
I was sandwiched between girls in spandex dresses in line for the better part of an hour as bouncers shuttled in betterknown couples and groups of girls ahead. I was meeting my new friend Anna and the friends she grew up with. They were inside already; I was late. I avoided the eyes of the girls in line who were eyeing me, the lone white girl, suspiciously. My mood was sour by the time I reached the bouncer and showed him my ID.
Inside, I spotted Anna and she led me through the foyer into the back room, where Spanish dance music was blaring from the speakers. It was packed; I told her I’d meet up with her girls in a second and headed straight to the bar. I ordered three shots of Patron, planning on sharing, but ended up taking them all myself.
The tequila helped. I pushed my hair into a messy bun and joined the ladies. There was Valentina, the voluptuous diva; Kristina, the sweet one; Beba, petite and with hearing aides; and Anna, the leader of the pack. We danced and Val cornered a dude in a black button-down and black slacks, pushing his back against the wall and grinding her ass up against him. These girls were wild.
After a half hour or so we stepped out for air and already I was ready to go.
"Let’s go get something to eat," Kristina urged, but Anna wanted to stay and dance. An older man who caught her eye as he was entering the club had led off Beba; he was working his game on her against a fence a few feet away. I wanted to eat, too. The club was too hot and crowded, and I liked listening to the girls talk—their slang was infectious, part Spanish, part ghetto. In this group, I was the timid one, and that was a role I rarely got to play.
We left Anna at the club, and I walked with Val, Beba and Kristina to a chicken spot a few blocks away. In the dark, the Bronx looked like the rest of New York. We were in Longwood, although I wasn’t sure what that meant. The air held a static of heat and excitement—I had hung out with Kristina twice before in Manhattan, and she was the one I knew the best. But it was July of my first summer in the city, I didn’t know anyone yet and I was determined to live.
"Girl, you sweet," Val told me as we munched chicken and fries, fielding glances from a group of guys in the booth across from ours.
Beba was texting a couple of guys she knew, Dominican dudes, asking them to pick us up in their car. We were in heels and we didn’t want to go back to the club, but none of us were ready for the night to be over. They agreed to come through.
The guys in the booth across from us got up to go. One of them, a short Mexican, walked up to me, squeezed my arm, and looked right into my eyes.
"Thank you," he said. I looked back at the girls. "What was that?" I asked.
"It was probably for the stiffy you gave him," Val said, and we all laughed.
The Dominican dudes pulled up. The driver was big, with long cornrows. The passenger was smaller, with a buzz cut. The four of us squeezed into the backseat, our chests vibrating to the Reggaeton pulsing full blast out the open windows.
We cruised up to a gas station and parked on a side street. Val was playing with Cornrows’ braids; Beba and Buzz Cut, who had some kind of history, were flirting. I was confused about why we were parked, but no one else seemed to notice.
Then a man popped up at the passenger side window, with two large Sunny Delight jugs. Cornrows reached over Buzz Cut to hand him a bill and took the two jugs. "It’s Nemo," one of the girls said, and they start rattling off what may or may not be in it—Everclear? Rum? It was a red frozen punch, whatever it was. They filled Styrofoam cups and we drank as we weaved through traffic onto the Cross Bronx Expressway. I turned the concerned part of my brain off and gulped down the frozen punch, wind in my hair, Reggaeton blasting in my ears.
Half an hour later, with three more dudes in the car and a big red stain on my white lace dress, we pulled up to Cornrows’ house. The night was turning into a gray pre-dawn, and a cop car was parked out front. I was buzzed, puzzled. No one seemed to mind the two skinny cops, younger guys, who stepped out of the patrol car.
"Fuck you, motherfuckers!" Cornrows yelled at them, and they smiled back, following us up the stairs and into the top-floor apartment. There, the guys cracked open Coronas for us and started rolling blunts. What the fuck is this, cops just chillin?, I thought.
I walked out onto the balcony and looked out over the rooftops at the pink sunrise. Sipped my beer, smiled to myself. Buzz Cut came out. "What are you?" he asked.
"Me? What do you mean?" "What’s your ethnicity?" "Oh, I’m Persian," I said. "A virgin?" he asked. I laughed. "Yeah. A Bronx virgin."