I can feel eyes on me before I have even fully descended the stairs, traveling up my legs, from the tips of my heels to my waist, to my shoulders, and my blonde locks. I am alone again, in a room full of hungry, consumptive stares. I pause for a moment at the bottom of the stairs, taking a minute to survey the scene, to regroup, to feel myself in my own skin. My eyes adjust and the room comes into focus, slowly at first. I see the outline of undulating bodies, and as my pupils dilate the details become sharper: I see arms draped over shoulders, hands clutching at waists, fingers gripping at thighs as women grind their bodies against their male dance partners. The air is humid and close, and smells of sweat and slightly of sex, a trashy, tasteless, loveless, condomless, one-night stand type of sex.
The brunette inside of me doesn’t know if she can take this, and wants to run back up the stairs, out of the bar, and down the street to the closest trendy South End mostly-gay bar I can find.
I take a deep breath and remember that my hair is blonde now. That means I fit in here, and to these people that means I am hot. I realize that at Clery’s, my blondeness is my armor, and that if I hold my head up high, and make my face into a blank mask, imitating models on the runway, I can do this. I step gingerly off the last step between the stairs and the basement and begin the hunt for Undercover Brother.
I make one round of the dance floor, sailing through crowd slowly, deliberately. I feel eyes searching my face, again looking for that crack of vulnerability. I make eye contact with no one, careful to look over people’s heads as I nudge and elbow my way through the crowd. I take in the dancers, who are unilaterally sloppy-looking, drunk. They grip and clutch at one another, and 50-Cent is bumping so loud, I couldn’t hear the men who are trying to talk to me if I wanted to. My eyes glance up for a moment, at the ceiling, which reveals exposed pipes, reminding me that this dingy space is indeed a basement. It reminds me of the basement of my childhood, where I’d hide in the dark when playing hide and seek.
There is another bar down here, and eventually I find it. As I reach the edge of the dance-floor, I realize that this is what Dave meant by “in the back,” this is where he was trying to send me in the first place. Far at the other end of the bar stands Undercover Brother, surround by a group of girls and guys I don’t know. As I approach them, the guys look me up and down, with the same consumptive glares I’ve been receiving since I arrived. “Ew,” I think, “I’m Undercover Brother’s sister.” But I’ve never met any of these dudes before, and I am certain they think I am just another available chick, looking to score at the meat-market that is Clery’s.
I push past two guys, who I am later introduced to as Undercover Brother’s friends, and tap my brother on the shoulder. He is flirting with a short brunette, who he later refers to as the “girl with the great rack.” She looks up at me, with glassy eyes, and I see a cloud cross her pretty faces as she takes me in.
“I hate you,” I tell Undercover Brother. This is our standard greeting.
“I hate you more,” he says, and I give him a hug. Then I see his friend Errol, who I’ve me several times, and turn around to give him a hug, too. When I turn back, Undercover Brother is making out with a different brunette at the bar. “Ew,” I say to Errol. Does he know that girl?”
“Huh…kind of,” says Errol, and we shrug at each other. Errol is a Muslim and doesn’t drink, and I have just arrived. I feel instantly bonded to him, in that we are both taking in this scene with clear, un-intoxicated eyes. “I think your brother’s drunk,” he says to me.
“Ya think?” I say, looking at Undercover Brother, who is still lip-locked with the brunette. “Maybe just a little bit. And by just a little bit, I mean totally wasted.”
Finally, Undercover Brother is done sucking face with Stranger Girl (“I had to,” he tells me later, “even though the girl I really wanted to make out with her sister,” who it turns out is the girl he was hitting on when I walked in. “The only way her sister would stay and have another drink was if I made out with Stranger Girl.” Right, because that makes so much sense. Drunk logic, go figure.) He comes back over to where I am standing, talking to Errol.
“Dude, did you lose weight?” he asks me. Then he cracks a smile, “You look, like, thin. Are you anorexic?”
“No,” I say. The truth is, people have been telling me this a lot lately, and I think it’s the hair. Or maybe it’s the slimming cut of these jeans. In any case, often when people say “you look thinner” they mean “you look better”, and this fact is not lost on me, as I conduct my blonde research.
“I think it’s my hair, people keep saying that,” I say. “By the way. do you like it?”
“Umm, the anorexia?” he laughs.
I make a face at him: "NO. The hair?"
“Yeah, dude," he smiles. "It looks good."
"So, do you think I look, like, different as a blonde?" I ask. He is my twin after all, and Undercover Brother is nothing if he isn't deadpan, cut to the chase honest.
"Yeah, you look totally smokin’. I mean, hey, let me put it this way, if you weren’t my sister, I’d totally hit on you.”
“Uch. Ew,” I say, but I can't help but smile, as I think: “Mission accomplished.” In this outfit, with this hair, I have miraculously transformed myself into something I never thought I could be: the kind of girl that my brother would hit on.
I realize that I have successfully crossed over to the other side, I have passed in this seedy other world as the UNDERCOVER BLONDE.
And no one, not even Undercover Brother, is the wiser.