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Diary of a Middle-Aged Vampire Goth

Susan Salter Reynolds' last story for the magazine was a profile of Max Kennedy.

It’s not that you don’t love your family anymore. It’s not that you’re not grateful for the roof over your head and the salary and the dependable car. But one day it occurs to you that your life is essentially over.

You are now fertilizer for the next generation. You are not as pretty as you used to be or as open or as agile or as interesting. You will no longer have passionate escapades or romantic encounters. Any money you used to spend on clothes will go to your children’s wardrobe.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Nov. 28, 2002 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 28, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 80 words Type of Material: Correction
Milne poem -- In “Diary of a Middle-Aged Vampire Goth” in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times Magazine, the title of the partially quoted poem by A.A. Milne was incorrect. It is “Disobedience,” not “James Morrison’s Mother.”
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 15, 2002 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 4 Lat Magazine Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
In “Diary of a Middle-Aged Vampire Goth” (Nov. 24), the title of the partially quoted poem by A.A. Milne was misidentified. It is “Disobedience,” not “James Morrison’s Mother.”

It’s just a moment, a little whoosh of air, as your spirit leaves your body.

At this point there are several choices for women of a certain age: Take a class, join a something or other, start speaking to deities, work on the house. An affair usually requires more self-esteem than you have at this moment.

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This is where I began the year. I needed an escape, but most of them are marked with a big skull and crossbones. Alcohol makes you fat. Marijuana makes you slow-witted, and besides, my husband is a lawyer who wants to be a judge someday; blatantly illegal escapes are out of the question.

Los Angeles came to my rescue. It was Halloween, and some children from my son’s school were coming over. Most of the parents didn’t dress up, but one couple, Lohriena and J.D., looked awfully comfortable in their vampire costumes. “We dress this way all the time,” said one of the school’s best PTA moms. When she smiled, you could see her custom-made fangs gleaming.

Lohriena wore a corset and a cape. J.D., who looks like Jesus Christ, wore a singlet and a long wool coat. They looked as if they were going to a party in London in 1848. I must have looked stifled--or perhaps it was my witch costume. “You look like you could use a little absinthe,” said J.D., who is prone to touching and squeezing and hugging.

I saw a door opening in my soul. On it was a sign with a skull and crossbones.

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Absinthe was popular in Victorian England, especially among members of a group that called themselves vampire Goths. In 21st century Los Angeles, the term “Goth” usually conjures an image of scruffy black-clad people who listen to heavy metal and stray into various fetishes. They are usually young. But J.D. and Lohriena explained that vampire Goths are usually middle-aged. They meet in clubs; in fact J.D. and Lohriena run one called Club Noire on La Cienega Boulevard that is open every other Saturday night.

The vampire Goths of Los Angeles are a close, friendly group. They dress up like crazy and fuss and coo over each other’s clothes. They drink absinthe (banned in the U.S. since 1912 but making a comeback on the Internet and in underground clubs) and something called “embalming fluid"--a mix of rum, melon liqueur, vodka and gin. They smoke tobacco in hookahs. Frequently, there is a sadomasochistic component to their gatherings--a show, or a room where you can go to watch people being flogged or tied up. I’m sure that it can get very dangerous, but to me it looked like theater.

“Are you just in?” a contract lawyer asks me during a Goth gathering at Club Makeup at the El Rey Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard. He is wearing leather pants and a pirate shirt, and I’m sure he’s alluding to my tame dress (although I thought it was outrageous when I first tried it on). Some of the vampires are here tonight, but the crowd also includes men and women on leashes and the hollow-eyed, chain-wrapped denizens of Melrose Avenue. The vampires stick together, and I hang with the vampires.

I arrive at Club Makeup courtesy of Lohriena, who calls herself Lady L., and J.D. By day, he is an actor. Lady L. would rather not say where she works, but she will admit that she “fell in love with the ‘Addams Family’ when I was a little kid.” J.D. fell in love with Lohriena when they met at Bar Sinister in Hollywood--our next stop.

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Lohriena wears a corset, a favorite among the vampires, and her black cape. Both she and J.D. have fingers covered with rings and long, curved talons (“hell on nylons”); their attire includes custom-made fangs and yellow-green contact lenses. J.D. and Lady L. know many people at both places (at Club Makeup we are brought magically to the front of a line that snakes around the block), and we are greeted with enthusiasm. These people don’t air kiss. They hug you by lifting you off the ground until your teeth rattle. I like all the touching. No one ever touches at our dinner parties.

Around 11 p.m., Lohriena asks if I would like to go upstairs. A man from New Jersey who recognized me as the only other “virgin” in the place had made a few tentative advances, so I decide to go upstairs, although clearly “going upstairs” means more than going upstairs. On the way up, two women are kissing so hard against the wall that they start sliding down the stairs. At the top, a flogger is gently whipping two women kissing in the middle of the room. When the club closes, he tells me he is a music teacher, originally from Iceland, a little man with round glasses. He carries his whips in a long sports bag.

The list of L.A. clubs that cater to the vampire Goth set includes Addiction, Prodigy, Satellite, Stigmata, Perversion, the Dungeon, and Cosmopolitan. Each has its heritage and its transformations. Fang begat Antiquity, which begat Club Noire. “This is a place where people can come to escape, to play,” Lady L. says of Club Noire. “Sure, some people get stuck [in their role-playing], the young ones we call KinderGoths, but for the most part these are sensitive, spiritual people who don’t fit in too well in the modern, plastic world.” It’s true. I feel very safe, less judged than at the fund-raisers we attend, more comfortable in my clothes and more at ease with the men and women than at any party I’ve ever been to.

There’s a big emphasis on manners--opening doors for ladies, commenting on appearances, all things that vanished with some revolution or another. On one Saturday night at Club Noire there are about 140 people of different colors and costumes, some made by hand. There are two women in wheelchairs in full Victorian velvet and brocade. The men are bowing and kissing and bringing drinks to their ladies. Lloyd, a 64-year-old with a white beard and a staff who calls himself a Druid priest, wanders through the crowd. People recline on red couches covered in velvet. Red lights and red candles flicker against the black walls.

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The favorite flogger of this crowd, a 26-year-old man named Gideon in a bowler and plus fours, presides on the back patio. He is so cute and clean-cut that I just want to go mommy on him and pinch his cheek. He will perform a show later in the evening in which he winds a woman completely in rope. Her name is Desiree and she wears a flower behind her ear and holds a red rose. She does not drink. “I can do whatever I want to her in public,” Gideon explains, “as long as it is consensual. If she drinks, that becomes questionable.”

Lohriena asks me if I want to be flogged, but I decline. It’s enough, as they say, to know it’s here.

Many of the people at these clubs, such as Rick Friedman, say the vampire Goths are like family. Lloyd, the Druid, adds: “I’m treated with consideration and respect here, and that’s more than I can say of the outside world.” William Studor, dressed in full pirate regalia, says the Goth lifestyle “is very open and friendly, pleasing and comforting.”

I haven’t been back but I think I could walk into Club Noire at any time and feel that I had comfortably stepped outside my life. Usually this involves risks that people with young children and jobs are afraid to make. That’s not the case here.

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A.A. Milne wrote a poem called “James Morrison’s Mother,” in which young James admonishes his mum never to go to the end of town without him. Sure enough, one dark day:

James James

Morrison’s Mother

Put on her golden gown.

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James James Morrison’s Mother

Drove to the end of town.

James James Morrison’s Mother

Said to herself, said she:

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“I can get right down

to the end of the town

and be back in time for tea.”

Of course, she does not reappear.

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James James

Morrison’s Mother

Hasn’t been heard of since.

King John said he was sorry,

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So did the Queen and the Prince.

King John

(Somebody told me)

Said to a man he knew:

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If people go down to the end of the town, well,

what can anyone do?

A night in Club Noire makes me feel like James Morrison’s mother. Give me a glass of absinthe and send me back in time. That’s all the escape I need. For now.


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