Sin City: Magic, HIV, And A Night At RoxbuyS

In 1992 Paul Solotaroff wrote "The Skin Trade," a story for GQ about Roxbury, the famous L.A. nightclub. Looking back, Solotaroff doesn't think much of his story but I wanted to share its conclusion with you because it touches on the nature sports, celebrity and sex:

By my fourth day in Hollywood, I have followed narcissism out to its natural limits and discovered that what it amounts to, mainly, is a lot of self-mutilation. Nor does perfection, once attained, seem to improve anything; it merely puts a pretty face on cannibalism.

None of which falls under the heading of news. Nathanael West reported more or less the same thing fifty years ago in The Day of the Locust, and all that has happened since is that lunacy has met up with its handmaiden, technology. Or at least I thought that was all that had happened—until I saw something that revealed to me the true nature of the dementia in L.A.

One my fourth day in Hollywood, you see, Magic Johnson told the world that he had tested positive for the HIV virus. Now, as any bartender in the country can readily tell you, the only thing heard that night in the dance clubs and singles joints was the sound of the other shoe dropping. People stood around wired to the overhead TV or sat alone, drinking somberly and taking inventory of the past ten years. To quotes Prince, "Two thousand zero, zero, party over, oops, out of time..."

But at Roxbury, where they'd always partied like it was 1999—and where Magic himself was a semi-regular—the general reaction to this news was no reaction. No stunned, mournful hush; no glassy-eyed introspection—hell, not even a toast to the guy who, for the past twelve years, had been the grand marshal of the sex parade, and whose very name, Magic, summed up this town's gag worldview.

It was is if he'd never existed, as if, in Orwell's phrase, he'd suddenly become an unperson. The club was absolutely packed that Thursday, with wall-to-wall steam queens and the usual industry execs. Only the stars had the good taste to stay away, no doubt saying their prayers and phoning their internist for an appointment. (By Saturday, however, they were out in force again: Arsenio, Bobby Brown and John Gill yukking it up with their bodyguards in the back of the VIP Room, Richard Lewis and Albert Brooks on babe patrol by the bar. Say this much, at least, for the crowd at Roxbury: They don't waste time on a lot of rinky-dink sentiment.)

"Hey, I loved Magic and everything, but all I know is we're not getting the whole story," said Bill, a strapping actor in a blue suede sports coat. "Put it this way: I know dozens of guys here like me—hetro, partied our asses off night after night—and not one of us has ever gotten sick. Now Magic, who, as I say, I love, but who you hear all kinds of things about all over town, he gets sick. I ask you to tell me why."

Jerry, a lawyer for one of the Big Three talent firms, had heard all the rumors, too. "I'm sorry to say it, but as long as there's a shred of doubt, people here are just going to ignore this thing. I mean, look around you; they're ignoring it already. It's like a high-school make-out party in here."

He nodded at the long bench besides the dance floor, where a girl in cowboy bots sat astride her guy, dry-humping him for all she was wroth. A half hour later, in dire need of a little air, I opened the door leading to the balcony and almost knocked over some drunk who had his face down his date's shirt.

Downstairs, I handed the valet my ticket and ran into [Roxbury's co-owner] Elie Samaha again. He was menacing a couple of blondes with a neon water gun, aiming it—where else?—smack beteween their breasts. He squirted them good, and they made a rush for him. There was a tussle for the gun, and amid the grunting and giggling, the thing snapped in half. Samada stood up, holding the barrel.

"You broke my little pink pistol!" he wailed.

Walking me to my car, he put an arm around my shoulders. "Hey, I forgot to ask you," he said, winking, "Did you bang that belly dancer the other night?"

"Which belly dancer?" I dimly inquired.

"Which! How many belly dancers have I set you up with?"

I scrolled back to Tuesday, remembering only a shy young woman who told me she taught grade school. "Grade school!" Samaha said, guffawing. "And you bought that crap? Jesus, you're something else. Anyhow, look, she's performing at a club in West Hollywood. Wait here, I'll get you the address."

"Elie, no please. Don't bother. Not tonight. Out of respect for Magic."

"Yes, Magic. Yes. Terrible, terrible thing." He nodded solemnly, pursed his lips and waved good-bye. In the doorway he stopped, as if remembering something. "Besides," he called after me, "there's always tomorrow night, right?"

Sin City: Magic, HIV, And A Night At RoxbuyS

[Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images; GQ]