I recently had my first experience buying alkyl nitrate, a chemical used medically as an antidote to cyanide. No, I didn't just start work for the Center for Disease Control; I was admittedly buying poppers, which is the slang term for inhaling said chemical recreationally. Poppers come in liquid form, are sold in little bottles, and are cleverly disguised most commonly as video-head cleaner. A quick sniff or two will increase heart rate, drop blood pressure, and produce an enjoyable, warm “rush” and intense sexual desire, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. A mainstay in the gay community, I’ve never been fixated on them, I've just enjoyed them if someone else happened to shove them under my nose while fooling around.
What prompted me to purchase my own bottle for the very first time? Well, it was Pride, I’d had a few drinks, and I was in a sex shop with some friends. I made up my mind and tentatively approached the counter. After what seemed like an eternity, the guy working put down his magazine and looked up at me.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’d like, uhhh, I’d like….” Shit, I knew I wasn’t supposed to call them “poppers” per se.
“I’m sorry, what?”
"Can I, uh, get a bottle of video-head cleaner?" I asked, sheepishly.
He stared blankly at me.
"The blue bottle there, all the way on the left," I said gesturing.
"My VCR, it's uh, really, really...dusty?"
His stone cold expression suddenly gave way to a huge grin. "I'm just messin with you, bro." He reached for the bottle.
We both laughed. That fucker.
The experience reminded me of one of the more bizarre dates I’ve ever been on. A little over a year ago, I’d met a guy named Jordan at, where else, a bar in West Hollywood. He had beautiful blue eyes, a killer smile, and had just moved into a guest house in Venice Beach. We exchanged numbers and met up that Friday, cooking dinner at my house and then grabbing drinks at a bar down the street.
The following Tuesday, Jordan asked if I wanted to come out to his neighborhood and barbecue with him. It sounded good to me, so I headed over to his area after work. I stopped at a liquor store to pick up some beer, and I got a text from Jordan to meet him at his friend’s house.
“My guest house doesn't have a barbecue, and he has a really nice kitchen,” Jordan explained.
Jordan’s friend was a really nice guy, a little older than us, and he had a beautiful house. We enjoyed a delicious meal of barbecue chicken, salad, roasted potatoes, and Hefeweizen. After dinner, we had a drink at the Roosterfish, a local bar. Jordan and I were getting along really well, and we went to the corner by the bathrooms to make out.
“I think you should stay the night,” he said. I was definitely into this guy, plus it was license to have a margarita or three since I wouldn’t have to drive.
“Sounds good to me.” I said, smiling.
We spent the rest of the night talking to random strangers, escaping ever so often to make out, and playing darts. All in all, not bad for a Tuesday night.
After closing the bar down, we hopped in a cab to what I assumed was Jordan’s place. I wasn’t entirely familiar with this Venice neighborhood, but I recognized that when we got out, we were back at his friend’s house.
“I just have to grab my bike,” Jordan called out to me, running for the back gate. He returned moments later and motioned for me to get on with him.
“Here, I just live a few blocks away.” I hopped on the bike and clung for dear life, unsure of this plan to semi-drunkenly cycle through the dark. I figured he didn’t live that far.
“Are we there yet?” I casually asked, six blocks later.
“Almost!” After what seemed like a mile, we pulled up onto the sidewalk into the front yard.
“My place is in the back,” he said. “I have to warn you though, it’s a little rough.” I didn’t care. At this point, I was just glad to be off the bike and ready for bed. I followed Jordan through the house and outside.
I looked around the yard, confused. I didn’t see a guest house anywhere. Maybe it was through a gate I couldn't see.
“Where’s your place?” I asked.
“It’s right there,” he said, motioning. And there it was, his guest house: a storage shed.
Suddenly, I was completely sober.
Jordan opened the door to the shed for us. There was a light bulb dangling from string, a bare mattress shoved up against a wall, and a pile of his belongings in the far corner.
“I just moved back here a few months ago, haven’t really had a chance to get settled,” he explained. I don't exactly live in a palace, but this looked like a cross between where a homeless person would crash and a murder scene.
Jordan pulled us down onto the mattress and started kissing me. I wasn’t really that turned on anymore, but I went along with it. After a couple minutes of making out, Jordan stopped and sat up for a minute, giving me an inquisitive look.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Do you like poppers?”
“Here! I have some.” He bolted up and started ruffling through his things. After a minute he grew frustrated.
“Where the fuck are my poppers?” he asked angrily, throwing clothes and papers right and left. Good lord, did he think I had them? And how did he expect to find anything in this mess?
“I don’t really need them,” I said. He ignored me.
“My fucking roommate must have come in here and stolen them!” Jordan cried. He ran out of the shed.
“GIVE ME BACK MY POPPERS!!!” Jordan screamed at the top of his lungs as he disappeared into the main house.
Needless to say, I did not want to be there anymore, but my options were limited. I’d had too much to drink to drive home. I could go sleep in my car, but it was over a mile away, and it would take me forever to get there at three in the morning. I’d just have to suffer through the night.
A few minutes later, Jordan raced back into the shed, beaming. He held up the little glass bottle as if it were an Olympic medal he had just been awarded.
“I found them! My poppers, I found them!!” he exclaimed. I wasn't sure if I should be supportive or just roll over and play dead.
Jordan stripped off his shirt and climbed onto the mattress with me. “Here, you can have the pillow.”
"I think I have to go to sleep," I said. "It's late."
"What??!" he asked, infuriated. "But I just found my poppers!"
"Sorry," I said. "I have a long day at work tomorrow."
A dejected Jordan unscrewed the light bulb and we went to bed. I woke up early the next morning, initially uncertain of my surroundings. Then I remembered everything. I crawled up, gathered my things, and crept out of bed.
And then I saw them: the poppers. Now, I didn't NEED them, but I saw an opportunity to cause trouble, and I couldn't resist. I grabbed the bottle, put it in my pocket, and got out of there.
I was going to have the cleanest VCR in all of West Hollywood.
ABOUT: TALES OF WEST HOLLYWOOD
Seeking a change in his life, the author moved to his own apartment in West Hollywood in 2008. The column is a look at the life of this single 30 year-old who's enjoying his life while casually looking for Mr. Right…or Mr. Right Now.