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Every so often I forget why I hate dance clubs, and wonder what I’m missing.

I go to the club with a friend who never really grew out of high school hook ups and teasing as an art form. When we see each other, an elaborate greeting rite must be performed. We strut round each other and spew forth base compliments.

"Did you lose weight?"

and

"That lipstick is so pretty!"

(She doesn’t know that in putting it on, I ate more than I’m wearing.) At first, the club is empty, and we sit drinking Long Island Iced Teas, and talking about the people we once knew. Then the hip-hop stirs something in her, and she needs to dance, waving her arms and swirling her hips around. I can’t dance, but I get up and do my best to mimic the people who seem to be doing it right.

My friend and I dance together for a while. It’s fun, then the club fills to capacity and he comes, with his friend in tow. He’s short and baby faced, just her type ,and he’s dancing behind her, mocking her. She turns to him and they dance together and I’m dancing alone, or with his friend. I don’t think either of us knows yet.

When a lull in the music comes, the boys offer us drinks. My friend accepts, I refuse, smoking instead, which also acts as an excuse to walk around alone. She is eating ice chips from the mouth of the baby faced one, like a little bird. His friend finds me, though I try to get away, and offers me a drink again. I’d assumed that my refusal would signify disinterest, but no, so we talk, and I find out that the two guys are roommates, and from Los Angeles. They stress this fact. "Do you know where we are from? I’ll tell you. California."

I think he means me to swoon at this knowledge, oh my god, a west coast man, let me strip down naked and bend over. I don’t, but my friend does, and when I find them again, she pulls out of her new man’s embrace long enough to whisper, drunkenly, loudly in my ear, "They’re from L.A.!" He smiles at me disinterestedly and pulls her lips back to his.

When I can ditch his friend, I hunch over the bar defensively, sipping water and wishing I was home in my pajamas. I miss my friends who, for the most part, prefer quiet gin and tonics and computers. I distinctly understand that I’m not seventeen anymore, as little waif girls with trust funds get up onto the bar and flash their breasts and I can’t fathom why they do it. The men hoot and holler, wave dollar bills and proposition for sex. From the way the girls laugh, it must be a compliment.

I fight my way back to the dance floor when I tire of the spectacle, and my friend and her man are kissing, while he traces her bra through her shirt with his fingers. His roommate pulls me to the dance floor, and I oblige, mostly out of boredom, but also out of courtesy. I can’t tell him to fuck off. I’m taking one for the team. Occupying the ugly guy so the others can have their fun. I am the wingman. But he wants his fun, too.

He pulls me in close, tightly, and positions my hands on his back, around his waist. His pelvis is thrusting against mine, and I pull away, still dancing, but with the wall behind me, I’m trapped. He spins me around and bumps and grinds into my back. I can feel his hard-on, and his hands move down towards my crotch, step by step, scurrying like two big spiders crawling over me. I want to escape, run into the bathroom and hide, but it isn’t that easy with two hundred pounds of man pulling you this way and that. I push his hands away, and his lips find the sensitive place on the back of my neck. The place reserved for lovers.

That is too much. I yank myself out of his vise-grip and light a cigarette. He asks me what’s wrong, I tell him I’m dizzy and that he should get me water. I scan for my friend in the mass of bodies but can’t find her. He comes back with my water and puts his arm around my shoulders, clearly marking his territory, but I wriggle away. I tell him I’m going to the bathroom, and downstairs, near the coat check room, I find my friend and her baby face in a corner, writhing against each other. His hand is up her shirt.

Against all better judgment I grab her wrist and pull her to the bathroom. "Do you want to stay, because I’m going," I hiss. She’s confused and I tell her about the humping and his hard-on and his breath on my neck. She laughs, still drunk. "Well, we knew there would be kissing. Come on, his friend is cute. There’s always hooking up," she says.

And breasts? And crotch and the sickening smell of too much cologne? We knew? No one mentioned the grabbing hands, the bodies that push and shove and make you feel small.

I go, leaving her there to be manhandled, to enjoy a stranger's compliments and caresses, and I ruminate on the subway about my friends and love. Every so often I forget why I hate dance clubs and go to one. And realize I’m not missing anything.

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