The club was murderously hot that Sunday afternoon, packed to the rafters with hundreds of Memorial Day Weekend revelers. A sudden crack of thunder, combined with a brilliant close bolt of lightening caused hundreds of more customers to flee the outside pool and patio areas and jam inside.
In the main disco, a huge cloud of steam hovered at the ceiling, generated by the collective heat of a thousand dancing men. The steam turned into dripping water in some places, raining back down on the dancers, the cumulative sweat of untold individuals in each drop.
'This is GROSS!', Ray shouted at me. The music was so loud, I could only read his lips.
'Hey, you wanted to come here!', I shouted back.
It was our first excursion to Pensacola. There was a good buzz about Memorial Day weekend in this backwat...um, Panhandle town. Fags and dykes from all over the country, but mostly the South, converged on the town and its offshore barrier island beach, for a weekend of homosexual debauchery.
The shitty weather kept us off the beach. Cloudy, oppressively hot, and windy. REAL windy. Some far away tropical storm was sending in wind so strong, the sand on the beach was turned into billions of hot painful missles.
So here we were at this club, only 4PM and already the mostly male crowd was well on the way to shit-faced. Everyone was trying to salvage some fun from the bad weather. Outside, the skies finally opened up, sending even the last stragglers from around the pool inside, pushing pushing PUSHING their way up the stairs into the balconies over the dancefloor, the only place where another human could possibly fit.
Every pore on every body blasted sweat. The air conditioners limped along, useless. Momentary relief only came when the huge swiveling fans over the DJ booth made their sweep in your direction. The temperature rose and rose. The steam cloud descended from the ceiling and nearly enveloped the faces of dancers, more and more sweat-rain plopping down from the pipes and lights.
And yet....in this scene that in another circumstance could resemble one of the circles of Hell, in this broiling, horrible, choking maelstrom of physical discomfort...on that dance floor, in the balconies, even behind the bar, there was a palpable, real, delirious....joy. A joy constructed of a shared ridiculous experience.
The DJ was playing disco classics. The crowd reacted to each familiar song with a roar of approval, something not-very-likely in this group of (ordinarily) jaded/trendy partyboys. The downpour of sweat-rain got so bad, the DJ put on 'It's Raining Men' and the crowd went nuts when they saw that he was now wearing a yellow hooded raincoat. To the side of the dance floor, the bartenders used their soda guns on the dancers, firing arcing streams of blessedly cold water onto our heads.
Suddenly the sound system crackled, and the power went out, followed a moment later by a room-shaking crash of thunder. Over the dance floor, a handful of emergency lights cut lonely shafts of light through the steam.
My buddy Ray, a fireman, pulled me close.
'Joe, this is NOT safe, we need to try and get out of here.'
We were at least 100 feet from the nearest exit, with untold hundreds of guys between us and the door. We spent a minute considering our options, sweaty shirtless guys pressing in on us from all directions. Pushing was starting to turn into shoving, and mood was changing, fast.
Just in time, the electricity returned. Lights on. Fans on. But no music. The crowd swayed in place, uncertain what to do next. In the booth, the DJ frantically fussed with his amps and mixing board. Nothing.
A bright light suddenly tracked up from one of the bartenders, into the balcony. I could see him holding a large, police style metal flashlight.
Standing at the balcony rail was Debbie Disco, a hilarious southern queen we knew from Orlando. Debbie was the 'hostess' of this T-dance, and the heat had done a number on her drag, hair wilted, makeup streaked. She waited a minute, until the crowd quieted a bit.
'I want to thank all of you for coming to see us today. This BITCH of a storm is giving us some sound trouble, but we should have the music back on before too long.'
The crowd buzzed amongst themselves, and again began a perceptible move towards the exit.
Debbie Disco conferred with a man standing next to her, then called out to the crowd.
'And until we get the music back on, it's gonna be OPEN BAR!!'
The exiting procession paused.
Debbie threw her hands up, Evita-style.
'C'mon, girls! Let LIQUOR be your music!'
The party was saved.