The Vortex press release read, “Those choosing to participate in the foam party will check their clothing in our check room.” I’d heard about foam parties from a friend who lives in South Beach, where they’re all the rage: a bunch of guys on a dance floor in their skivvies get all hot and bothered, then–whoosh!–a ton of foam cascades from above, engulfing the writhing group in a sea of lubricant.

The thought made my winkie shrink. I can’t even take my shirt off in public, let alone the rest of my clothes. And the only time I have sex with the lights on is when no one else is around.

But I rode home on the el that night wondering if I had time to get a rush order from International Male. A thong? A mesh Speedo? Right. On me they’d look like something from International Whale. The only thing I’ve ever ordered from IM is socks, and that was just to keep the free subscription going.

“I’ll just get nice and hammered,” I thought. And I called my buddies Eric and Rudy.

We got to Vortex at 10 PM. It was pretty empty. I bought a round of drinks, and we walked around scoping the place out. The metal dance floor had been transformed into a massive arena enclosed by four-foot walls and lined with plastic. In the corner was a huge, 360-gallon vat of water that looked like a giant cottage-cheese container. An enormous tube snaked out of its side, up the back wall of the stage, and into an industrial-size fan that was suspended from the ceiling. Ah, modern technology. Where would debauchery be without it?

A guy walked over, lifted the lid off the vat, and began dumping in five-gallon drums of liquid soap.

The place started filling up around 11. A long line had formed at the checkroom. Guys were everywhere, stripping down, putting their clothes into plastic grocery bags–compliments of the house–and handing them to the attendant. Each person received a numbered stub and a plastic bag to keep it in. This was a well-thought-out event.

I downed my drink, turned to Eric and Rudy, and said, “This is it. Let’s go.”

Eric was in his element. He got right in line and peeled his clothes off like Gypsy Rose Lee. Rudy and I found a dark corner. When we reemerged Eric pointed at me and said, “This is what you’ve been so uptight about? This? What are those? Grandma’s running shorts? They go down to your knees, for chrissake.”

People were turning to look. “Shut up, Eric,” I said.

For the last 45 minutes a guy had been out on the dance floor all by himself–an obvious shill. No one was taking the bait. People were just milling about in their undies, sipping drinks, waiting for the foam. We headed out onto the catwalk to watch the guy.

“Lifeguards” wielding Uzi water guns stationed themselves on platforms above the arena walls, and slowly people began to descend the metal staircase from the second level to the dance floor. The music was pounding away.

At midnight the lights went low, the place went quiet, and the DJ announced that the foam was nigh. The place erupted in stomping and catcalls.

At some point the fan and the tubing behind it had been covered in a sheath of leather. The thing now began undulating over the crowd. The several bars of Strauss that open 2001: A Space Odyssey, blared over the sound system. As the music reached its climax, the leather split and an enormous spray of foam shot out over the crowd. People screamed and cheered. Guys poured onto the floor.

Eric was so happy he couldn’t stay put, and we kept moving through the crowd. A big blast of foam shot out of the thing every so often–a refractory period of about five minutes–and we were close to it the next time it erupted. It dumped right on my head.

I was blind and choking. In a panic I wiped my face and tried to breathe, but I could tell I was under several feet of the stuff. I started pushing blindly toward the shallow end, shoving people out of my way. Somebody yanked me hard by the arm and wiped my face off for me. I hung over the side of the wall till I stopped coughing.

I didn’t find Eric for at least 30 minutes. When I saw him I said, “I almost drowned.”

“Me too. Let’s go find Rudy and get a drink.”

By this time soapsuds had been tracked over every square inch of the joint. In the john guys were taking cups of water and pouring them over their heads and shoulders to rinse off. A mop and pail stood in a corner.

We found Rudy downstairs talking with a small group of friends. “How was it?” they asked.

“I almost died,” I said. They thought I meant it in a good way.

Eric talked Rudy and most of the other guys into going back in with him. Don begged off on account of a recent back injury. I can smell a coward at ten paces. I looked him in the eye and said, “Bullshit.”

“No. Really.”

“I thought you weren’t afraid of anything, all those stories you tell. Off with the clothes. Let’s go.”

“I can’t. I was laid up for a week. That’s a metal floor in there. It’s treacherous.”

“It’s covered with thick carpet. It’s not even remotely slippery.”

“I can’t chance it.”

“So what you’re saying is, if it weren’t right now, tonight, you’d do it?” One of the bartenders had told me the next foam party’s scheduled for September 22.

But Don’s a lawyer. He can smell a trick question at ten paces. “How about I just buy you a drink and you get off my back?” he said.

“Fair enough.”

When we got back from the bar Eric and Rudy were inside the wall. Rudy did the shimmy when he saw us and mouthed “wow.” A little while later I saw Eric with his back to the wall. I couldn’t see Rudy. I walked up behind Eric, reached over the wall, and felt him up. He turned around. It wasn’t Eric.

I jumped back. “Oh, God! Sorry! I thought you were a friend!”

The guy laughed. “Quite all right. Happens all the time.”

I worked my way back onto the dance floor, which was a lot more crowded now. If it hadn’t been for the foam no one would have been able to move at all. I felt like a watermelon seed being expelled from moist lips. Someone stepped on my foot, and I lost my balance and started to go down. I knew if I didn’t drown I’d be trampled to death. I grabbed the closest arm, and it pulled me up.

“Ooooh,” its owner said. “This one’s got nice biceps. Feel ’em, boys.”

Suddenly there were several pairs of hands all over me. I reached out to shake the hand of the guy who’d saved my life. He was wearing a rubber glove with a honeycomb texture. Wonder what that was for.

One of the lifeguards spotted our little menage a quinze and blasted us. Let me tell you, those things hurt at close range. We scattered.

I tried to dance by myself, but it was physically impossible. The last time I experienced that much frottage was on a bus in Rome.

Riding home that night staring at the sky as it grew lighter, I couldn’t help thinking what a great subculture this is. We know how to party!

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Randy Tunnell.