There are a rash of articles in the UK newspapers about young women left reeling or semi-paralysed after their drinks were spiked or, even more chillingly, after they were injected with date rape drugs. My first thought this morning, on seeing the latest story, was something like "Holy cow! Stay out of pubs and clubs!" But my next thought was "Easy for me to say when I have stopped going to clubs and never go to a pub without my husband."
Spiking drinks is not new, of course, and when I was a slim young thing frequenting Goth clubs (see above) and, much more rarely, Top-40 places, I either finished my drink before I left the table, or I yelled "Watch my drink" over the music at my most capable companion. I remember the Age of AIDS, so the idea of strangers stabbing the unsuspecting with syringes horrifies me on many levels.
How fun were clubs? When I was a child reading about clubs in Time or the Toronto Star, they sounded like the most fun in the world. I couldn't understand why my parents, who had money and IDs, didn't go. When I was a young teen, my mother strictly forbade me from going to clubs, so my guilt when the parish youth group snuck into "Sparkles" was intense.
"Sparkles" was incredibly boring, by the way, and I don't think it lasted long in that residential neighbourhood. Most teens or 20-somethings living within 20 miles of downtown Toronto and looking for noisy fun on a Saturday night made their way there. It took me forever to realise this, however, so I had more than one extremely boring evening under a glitter ball in a noisy suburban box.
Downtown clubs could be scary, though, and even revolting. I enjoyed dancing, but I did not enjoy being approached by strangers. I enjoyed drinking too, if I was with friend who were also drinking. I vaguely recall a boozy night in the Queen Street West dance clubs with my pal Lily while home from Boston College. I also seem to remember us having taken a Jesuit scholastic to Velvet Underground although surely I am making that up. Surely we did not do that. Surely not.
I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that clubs were fun although it took me a while to figure out which clubs were more fun than they were dull or distressing. They were rarely as fun as I'd thought they'd be, though, and my advice to a young beginner is to have a taxi company on speed dial and go home as soon as she sees ennui creeping around the corner.
Some readers will object that young people should not be in clubs at all, for they are dungeons of sin and vice, but I'm afraid such talk will imbue them with dark glamour. When I was a teenager, a much more effective means of convincing the young was telling them that something was boring. One of my religion teachers discouraged our class from watching The Last Temptation of the Christ by telling us that it was boring. My mother discouraged me from wanting to go to rock concerts by telling me that they were boring and if you want to hear the music, you should buy the album. (My mother had the chance to see The Beatles at Maple Leaf Gardens but chose not to go because she knew she wouldn't hear anything except girls screaming.)
Another deterrent, if you are determined to keep youngsters out of dance clubs, is to explain that they are not primarily a place to cut loose on the dance floor--as the innocent young probably think--but a warehouse where sex-minded adults seek other sex-minded adults for sex. Therefore, a young lady should not be shocked if, for example, a very drunk young man wearing comedy breasts dances up to her and shouts "Touch my breasts!" And this sex-mindedness is also the reason why they have to guard their drinks.
The religion teacher who successfully put us off watching The Last Temptation of Christ also said that when he saw what we wore to dances, he wanted to kit us out in suits of armour. After reading these injection stories, I feel the same way about young women in general. Of course, they will not understand this, just as we didn't understand our religious teacher and some of my classmates were affronted. ("Men should control themselves," etc.) Innocent or ignorant, we just couldn't understand the Niagara River that is adolescent male sexual desire and the lengths to which some men, especially evil ones, will go for relief.
It seemed--and is--incredibly unfair that men would resent young women for being simultaneously attractive and unwilling to have sex with them. Didn't they know that we could get pregnant? Didn't they know that our immigrant parents would throw us out of the house? Didn't they know that we wanted to get married one day? What were they thinking?
Yeah, so, male desire throws "thinking" right out the window, something extremely hard to explain to a teenage girl who thinks she knows everything.
At any rate, to get back to pubs and clubs, pubs are a deeply beloved feature of British life, and they function as a sort of communal neighbourhood living-room. It would be sad if young women just stopped going to them. My advice to anyone worried about being drugged in pubs is to pick a reputable local pub and make it her own. She could go with friends always to the same pub, or only to pubs at least one of the friends usually goes to, and get to know the staff. If the pub is okay with dogs, she could bring her dog. She should never leave her drink unattended, and she should have a taxi company on speed dial. She should know her limit--mine is inconveniently 3/4 of a pint--and stick to it. Historically women in Scotland didn't go to pubs and, although this might be overly cautious, I won't sit in one alone.
As for dance clubs, I have no applicable up-to-date advice except "go with responsible friends" and "discuss how much to drink beforehand" and "never leave anyone in the group alone", "have a taxi company on speed dial" and "find something else to do during Freshers' Week." I keep wanting to say I stopped going to dance clubs after my friend Clara and I got followed around Edinburgh's The Hive by what seemed to be an uncle-nephew tag team, but that wouldn't be true, for I went to Balkanarama after that, and when it wasn't boring or tedious (the queue for the grubby loo was eternal), it was quite fun.
Thus, the answer to my question is that clubs were sometimes fun, and sometimes distressing, and often dull. But I had so much fun in a dance club in Frankfurt-am-Main, I wrote a Graham Greene tribute novel about it. (I hasten to say, however, that I have neither lived in sin with the grand-nephew of a German archbishop nor indulged in club drugs.)
Update: In reading another story, I was moved by the words of a teenager who said that she was "just trying to enjoy her first year of university." The illusions of the young--encouraged by the entertainment industry--are so sad, as is the fact that many of the activities we turn to in search of enjoyment we would find unbearable without alcohol.
Update 2: And I would add to my advice to go to small clubs where people clearly go for the music itself--a speciality interest place, like where salsa-fans go to salsa--not to a big, sweaty Top-40 warehouse. Frankly, I am now wondering how to convince young folk not to go anywhere associated with drink-spiking and syringe attacks.
Update 3: I think it might be through convincing them that dance clubs are SO over and that they can think up much more consistently fun things to do themselves.