How to Survive at a Club in the Hood (and Elsewhere)

by Allison Davis

Much like the opening lines of Anna Karenina, while different cultural luxuries are each luxurious in their own way, the hood is pretty much the same wherever you go. Region and race don’t matter. Sometimes you need to go there for a reason, and sometimes you get taken there against your will, and sometimes that’s just where the club happens to be. This past weekend I found myself at the Scrub-a-dub Club in Negril, Jamaica, a place that doubles as a car wash by day and a strip club by night (I can’t make this shit up even if I wanted to). It’s pretty up there in hood awards, and yet, the same rules for survival applied there as applied to southeast D.C. or London’s east end. We were there to see Mavado, arguably Jamaica’s baddest bad man with a velvet voice. He came on around 3:30 a.m., so I had a lot of time to observe and take mental notes on how NOT get my American ass whupped. And if you too should find yourself clubbing in the hood, here’s a few things to keep in mind:

Get your mean mug right: Also known as your hip-hop face. Like neon coloring on bugs or plants, this is nature’s way of saying Do Not Fuck With Me. A set jaw, a thousand-yard stare that sees everything and nothing, and an expression that at once says “you have four seconds to impress me” and “I am not at all amused” should do the trick. This look also gives off the all-important aura of knowing exactly where you are and where you’re going, which is an essential element in not getting got.

Don’t stare. And lawd ‘a mercy, don’t point: Do not in any way give any person any impression that you’re talking shit. This is like crazy asshole bait. They WISH you’d give them a reason to start some shit with you, and seeing you point and whisper from across the room is the best reason ever. It would probably even hold up in court.

*NOTE: If someone DOES catch you staring at them and makes eye contact, or demands to know WTF you’re looking at, compliment them. Quickly and effusively. The only appropriate answer to “You got a staring problem, bitch?” is, “I’m sorry, but I just love your earrings. Where did you get them?” I promise this will disarm and confuse your attacker, and make a friend of foe.

Use your goddamn peripherals: This is a trick to be simualtaenously aware of everything that’s going on in a 360 degree 10 foot radius (is that a gun or a belt buckle? Is she about to vomit on my shoes?) while at the same time completely avoiding direct eye-contact and maintaining your mean mug. Look, but don’t look.

If someone addresses you directly, you politely, briefly, acknowledge them: I was on the subway in Boston on my way to a party around 11 p.m. when some guy got on the train alone, wasted. Not in a fun way, either. I mean like slurring his slurs, sweating vodka. When he focused his eyes on me and practically belched a “herro,” I nodded and said hi back, then kept on with my thousand-yard stare (but engaging the hell out of my peripherals). At the next stop, a well-dressed business man with matching luggage got on. The drunk said hi. The businessman said nothing. The drunk tried again, louder, “HIIIII.” The businessman clearly ignored him, and even turned away. The drunk had a moment of clarity and said, for the entire train to hear, “I know what’s happening. You think because I’m a drunk you think you’re better than me. That it? You think you’re better than me? I got news for you buddy. I may be drunk, but I ain’t dumb. And I’ma puke allllll over your nice ass luggage, you asshole.” And you know what? THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HE DID. HE VOMITED ALL OVER THIS MAN’S LUGGAGE. Conveniently, I got off at the next stop for my party. But I never forgot: someone says hi to you, you say hi back.

Establish headquarters: If you’re with a crew, it’s always good to establish a home base. Mark your territory with jackets and the informal contract that someone, or two someones if the spot is especially dicey, will stay there at all times. If you’re the one stuck there while everyone else is taking a lap in the bathroom or at the bar, too bad, you have to take one for the club team. If whoever’s on bar duty doesn’t bring you back a drink, make a mental note, because they’re not your real friend. Also, central headquarters is a good way to memorize where the nearest exits are in case a fight breaks out, or go get everybody else if someone from your crew is in said fight.

Make friends with large men: This is especially true at a concert or performance of any sort. If a really big guys plants himself right in front of you, tap him on the shoulder and ask really nicely, while smiling, if he can switch with you. He will ALWAYS say yes. He will also instinctively protect you if something goes down. *NOTE: do not attempt this if he has a girl with him. Find another, singler large man to befriend.

Remember your manners: When you brush past someone and it’s a tight fit, SAY EXCUSE ME. I don’t know why so many people forget this vital piece of cordiality, but this is the best way to diffuse club animosity. And people actually do move to let you through without even really thinking about it.

The ladies room is the boardroom: This is where deals are made and contracts negotiated. You need friends in the club, especially if the so-called ones you came with bail or are undercover haters. Give a girl a tampon or tell her she has toilet paper on her shoe, this is your homie for club-life (a.k.a. until the lights go on). You never know how she might come in handy later. Shoot, she might know the owner or show you the secret network of tunnels under the building.

You will probably get touched: If a dude touches you inappropriately, look him in the eyes with authority and say NO. Yes, like you would a dog. And keep walking. Mean mug harder.

Don’t accept a drink from someone you don’t know: We are big girls. We make our own money, we buy our own drinks. And if you don’t have enough money to buy your own drinks, then take your broke-ass home like Fergie says (you shouldn’t be at the club anyway). Most guys think that your drink acceptance constitutes you owing them something, from the right to follow you around all night to your number to going home with them. You don’t want to deal with any of those things, do you? (No.) Also, people still do roofie people, you know. Politely decline and tell them you’re taking it easy tonight or something. If they insist, take it and toss it.

Know how to hold your purse: Leave the diaper bag at home and step out with something that doesn’t get in the way of you dancing or double fisting. Those trendy cross body deals are great for this, as are the clutches with the wrist-holder. You really only need cash, your license, phone, lip-gloss, a couple of napkins (in case there’s no TP in the bathroom), and keys. If you roll like a janitor, just take off your house key. The essentials, ladies. Just the essentials.

Bring flats: Since you’re in the hood chances are the music is excellent and you’re dancing your ass off, and if you’re wearing heels your feet will absolutely kill you at the end of the night. Those flip flops they give you at the bougie pedicure spot that roll up and you can tuck anywhere are the best; you can change into them for the after party/ 4 a.m. waffle joint and, yup, you should know by now: Break into a run if a fight breaks out in the parking lot.

Good luck! Have fun! Practice your mean mug in the mirror!

Allison Davis is a writer and TV producer in San Francisco.

Photo via JamaicaMyWay