It's an hour shy of midnight on a Saturday night in early March, and a case of the Andromeda Strain seems to have brought activity in Boulder's industrial section to a dead stop. But this apparent tranquility is deceptive. Outside one nondescript warehouse, a single beacon attracts a steady parade of nocturnal forms--mutants, perhaps, but undeniably alive. They pass steadily through a doorway that, when open, emits an otherworldly sound, like the rapid heartbeat of an enormous extraterrestrial. Thump! Thump! Thump!
Inside the structure, the several hundred figures furiously churning their limbs to the insistent rhythms look appropriately alien. One woman is clad in an outfit that calls to mind the vinyl seat of a '73 Vega. To her right, a man pads around the space in a rubber diving suit, fins and mask. By contrast, Diggie Diamond, the lead singer for Denver's Foreskin 500, and his girlfriend, a woman known among the boogieing minions as Mary Kuntrari, opt for a breezier approach; they eventually strip down to crotch-hugging thongs. But for all the jiggling, fleshy parts they display, they are not the center of attention. Not on this night, anyway. That honor belongs to another natty couple: Peking Super Sushi Pussy and Kid Cyberfire, known collectively as the Sugar Twist Kids.
Peking wears a flowing pink wig and a flimsy, one-piece body suit that slides further into the crevice of her buttocks than any proctologist would dare probe, while the Kid turns heads thanks to his short-cropped hair (dyed a luscious red), ear lobes that accommodate wooden plugs the size of champagne corks and foot-high platform shoes that cause him to tower over even the tallest attendee. But it's not their clothing or even their astoundingly kinetic dancing that causes them to stand out from the crowd. It's something more intangible--an intensely weird vibe that flies off their bodies like sweat from Patrick Ewing's head during the fourth quarter of a Knicks game. That's why the two have become in-demand club personalities at hot spots across the U.S. and Europe. And it's why talk-show hosts Jerry Springer and Carnie Wilson both wanted to put them on television for all the world to see (Carnie won).
On this night, their nonstop oscillations even exhaust the warehouse's sound system; around 2 a.m., all of its fuses blow. Stunned by the sudden silence, the night-lifers begin milling around the room, their faces blank. But they perk up when the Kid, who planned the festivities to commemorate his 23rd birthday, appears on a balcony overlooking them. "The party is not over," he announces. "It's an electrical problem, but we're fixing it. Everything will be fine."
He's right. Within five minutes the glorious noise starts booming again. The Kid is smiling, but he fesses up to at least one disappointment. "It's too crowded in there to breathe fire tonight," he complains. Then he wanders back into the throng, looking for his mother.
Barbara Heater is the mom in question, and the birthday bash for the Kid (whom she dubbed Eric Heater back in 1973) was the first time she's seen him in his element. "I had a great time," she says, sounding somewhat surprised to be making such an admission. "It was just a bunch of kids hanging out having fun just like we used to when we were younger. They look a little different, but hey, they all seemed like they were pretty good kids to me."
This opinion is not universally shared--not when it comes to her son and his girlfriend, anyway. As the Kid notes, "We've had rocks tossed at us, we've been beaten on, we've been called all kinds of names." But he and Peking (given name: Judy Choi) haven't responded to this turmoil by chucking their lifestyle, tidying up their looks and embracing the mainstream. They remain dedicated to living as they see fit, no matter how absurd their values might seem to people mired in a standard-issue, nine-to-five existence. According to the Kid, "It's not like we go home and dress in jeans and sneakers. We look freaky all the time. When we go shopping to get food, we get dressed up in all this stuff. We don't go into hiding during the day and come out full blast at night. We're full blast 24-7."
Strange as it might seem, this approach has turned into a career; these days the Sugar Twist Kids make enough dough from appearance fees forked out by promoters at clubs and special events to make ends meet. The Kid's elaborate fire-breathing act, for which he's become known throughout the area, is especially lucrative. "I can't believe what a killing I can make off it," the Kid enthuses.
Even so, the pair aren't rich. Some months they barely scrape by. But at least they've got each other. "She definitely makes me functional," the Kid says. "I wouldn't be this functional without her."
Peking, whose every sentence seems to be accompanied by manic giggling, readily concurs: "The reason we are where we are is because we are together."
In other words, this is a love story. Nineties style.
The Kid was raised in Golden ("I'm a little mountain boy," he declares) and seemed only moderately odder than his five siblings--three brothers, two sisters--until puberty, when his unique sexuality began bubbling to the surface.
Today he says that he and Peking are "pan-sexual. We love the Earth and all the animals on the Earth--although that doesn't mean we're into bestiality." At age fifteen, though, the urges he now embraces made him feel extraordinarily guilty, and he turned that guilt back upon himself. As a result, "I became a neo-Nazi skinhead." Over the course of the next year, the Kid consorted almost exclusively with other skins and used the Nazi dogma "as a doorway to hatred for gays." What helped him realize the error of his ways, he believes, was his introduction to another organization, the Temple of Psychic Youth, which he calls "an intuitive, magical group of eclectic individuals." But to the rest of the Heater family, the Kid's involvement in yet another seemingly bizarre organization was hardly reassuring. They remained on the lookout for signs that he was going off the deep end--and it didn't take long for them to find some.
"When I was seventeen, I was living in an apartment in Golden," the Kid recounts, "and one of my sisters came by and saw an Iron Maiden tapestry on my wall and a picture of a wolf that I'd cut out of National Geographic and instantly decided that I was satanic. So she told my mom and gave her the number to Bob Larson's hotline. The guy there told her that I was going down the road to fire--which I was, as it turned out--and so she had me committed to Charter Hospital."
Young Eric was released two months later, after Charter's experts declared him eccentric but sane. However, some of his siblings were not convinced and remain estranged from him to this day. "They probably thought he was a complete bum," Barbara speculates. "But I realized that I would have to start listening to him more. And I found out that he was still the same loving, caring little guy he'd always been."
In the meantime, the Kid was finding out how much better he felt being outside the closet. He soon became a regular at a number of Denver's gay nightspots. (He isn't the only former skinhead to have taken this path. "We've seen some of the skinheads I used to hang out with at the Compound, which is a gay club," he remarks. "They're a lot nicer people now.") He also endeared himself to followers of the underground rave scene, thanks in part to his tireless dancing and always outrageous garb. People started noticing him. And one night at a venue in Boulder, while working as a dancer for Nebula 9, one of the city's best electronic bands, he noticed someone else.
"I remember seeing this guy, this Asian guy, and he totally looked great," the Kid recalls. "So I went over to talk to him, and it turned out to be Judy. She pulled off her hat and let her hair down, and I was like, 'Damn.' She was amazing."
Peking, who's 21, isn't from China, but her father is. He moved to the States a quarter-century ago lacking both money and prospects. The situation didn't improve quickly; Peking can still recall living with her dad and mom, a Hong Kong native, in flimsy shacks unequipped with running water or other conveniences. One basement apartment in particular sticks in her mind. "It had a heater, but it didn't have any carpet and it had only one mattress, and I had to take baths in soy-sauce buckets," she says. "That's how poor we were."
Through hard work, the elder Chois have improved their lot. They currently live in Wisconsin, where they run a restaurant and a small ginseng factory, and they're proud that their daughter is enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she's majoring in English and creative writing. But they don't want to talk about her addiction to clubbing or her match with the Kid. "Last year my father went to China to try and find a husband for me," she divulges, cackling. "He wanted someone for me from the deep villages of China who I'm sure would have wanted me to take care of him really well."
To say the least, the Kid doesn't fit this description, but Peking is loyal to him anyway. Since meeting over three years ago, they've been almost inseparable, going to clubs from approximately 11 p.m. to sunup six nights a week. ("There's nothing happening on Mondays," the Kid claims. "So we consider that our day off.") The two have had plenty of opportunities to hook up with partners of either gender over that span but have turned down all offers that have come their way. Despite their various sexual predilections, they've maintained a monogamous relationship. Of sorts.
"In our home, regular sex--well, it's already been done, and it's boring," the Kid asserts. "But when we're in a club in all of our gear, like in rubber outfits and gas masks, it's so amazing how you can get aroused. Seeing her like that makes me totally want her more than at other times. That's when my highest sexual energy comes out."
"I hear you," Peking echoes, grabbing his arm. "I hear you."
The outfits Peking makes, from latex, vinyl, rubber and assorted remnants liberated from thrift stores, have become favorites among ravers--so much so that many have asked her to create costumes for them. As a result, she hopes to start her own fashion business upon her graduation from CU-Boulder one semester hence. "It's ridiculous that I'm doing so well there," she says. "I don't know how I'm doing it, with the hours we keep."
As for the Kid, he considers his body a canvas. His torso is covered with tattoos, and his cheeks sport tasteful metal studs. He prides himself on his piercing expertise. "I pierced my cheeks myself," he boasts. "And I pierced my nose and her ears. With my ears, I used little ear-hole starters from my mom's collection and then I just stretched them out to, like, an inch and a half. I'm not done with them yet, though. Not until I get to two and a half inches, anyway."
And then there's his penis, which is adorned with a modest ring. The Kid pierced that himself, too. "I used an animal injection needle that they use to inject stuff into cows and horses. I got it from a feed store. It's tapered and hollow--just perfect.
"Everybody thinks that I got drunk or something when I did it, but I didn't. I went to listen to some music and got really relaxed, and then I got into a tub of really hot water and shoved it through the head of my cock. It didn't hurt that bad. Really."
Of course, the Kid is familiar with pain. Such is the lot of a fire-breather.
He first learned the basics of blowing flames in New Orleans a couple of years before he met Peking. He was in the city with members of Crash Worship, a West Coast collective that melds tribal music and performance art. Prior to the evening's show, Crash Worship's regular fire-breather said he wasn't up to the task, so the Kid volunteered to stand in for him. "I went out into the alleyway with a broomstick and a torch--it was crappy--and I used some Bacardi 151. It blistered my mouth, but I got it to make a light-blue flame, which I thought was cool."
Over time, the Kid's routine has become much more elaborate: "Now I can light my hands on fire and light torches off my hands and light my tongue on fire and light torches off my tongue. And I can light the back of my throat on fire and hold torches in my mouth." These improvements have been made possible by successful experiments with different liquids. He mixed Bacardi and Everclear for a while. Then, after meeting Justinian, a fire-breather with the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, he started using a special oil he declines to name for fear that others will try to emulate him. ("This is definitely way dangerous," he says. "It's not as easy as it looks.") He's been cutting this fluid with another unnamed ingredient since last October, when his health took a turn for the disgusting.
"I was working this haunted house, and for like a week I was peeing thick blood," he says. "I thought maybe it was this stuff going through my body and messing with my kidneys, and that it would pass. But then one morning, I woke up feeling like something blew up in my stomach. I started crying and freaking out, and I couldn't even walk. I had to pull myself down the hallway with my hands. But I got to Judy--she was sleeping on the couch--and said, 'You've got to take me to the hospital. I'm really sick.' And she was like, 'Don't play around with me in the morning like this,' and she smacked me."
"It's true," Peking says, laughing.
When she shook off enough cobwebs to realize that the Kid was serious, Peking helped him crawl to their car and rushed him to a hospital. In the waiting room, while sitting in a wheelchair, "I went into convulsions and started flopping around like a fish," the Kid crows. "And then I passed out, and when I woke up, I heard Judy yelling, 'Don't stare at him, damn it!' Then a doctor looked at me and tried to blame everything on my cock being pierced--like, 'Your urine flow isn't going right because you've got something down there.' But it was actually a kidney infection. A few days later my urine started getting pink, and then everything was back to normal and I was kicking high energy again."
Efforts to incorporate Peking into the fire performances have led to other difficulties. She once tried to breathe fire solo but nearly inhaled the flame--"which is like instant blow-up-your-lungs," the Kid explains. Another stunt called for the Kid to exhale fire at her in a way that would cause the flames to curl around her. But the trick went awry. "I used to have long dreadlocks, but he singed them so badly that I had to cut them all off," Peking reports. "Oh, God, I couldn't believe it. He singed some of my eyebrows off, too."
"That's why she doesn't have any," interjects the Kid, who concedes that he was drunk during this incident. (He and Peking say they no longer consume either liquor or drugs.)
"We might try to do some of that stuff again, but not with my hair like it is now," Peking continues, fingering the Raggedy Ann extensions on her locks. "I'm extra flammable now."
Her inability to blaze hasn't made Peking any less attractive to club managers. She and the Kid have become some of the area's most sought-after partyers.
At first they had no inkling that they could turn a profit simply by going out on the town. But their minds were changed when various local rave promoters, who liked the effect the twosome had on their other guests, started letting them into their events for free. Before long, Peking and the Kid began asking for a fee in exchange for showing up, and they were pleasantly stunned when the majority of promoters agreed. Inspired, Peking, the Kid and two gay friends dubbed themselves the Getalong Gang--a moniker that was switched to Sugar Twist a few months down the road. The other couple subsequently drifted away, and while the remaining duo have since tried to add to their number, they say that no one has clicked for long.
"It'd be nice to have a few more people with us when we do shows out of town," the Kid says. "But it just seems like when we have other people in our group, we turn around and see them kissing ass with the promoter instead of doing their job, which is trying to entertain other people and have a good time."
"It's really rare to find the right kind of person," Peking confirms. "It's not what you wear. It's something that comes from inside you. It's not just about being fabulous."
This quirky work ethic caught the attention of the folks at the Compound, at 145 Broadway, who asked the Kids to set up their own club there once a week. Sugar Twist Saturdays were a regular success for almost a year, as were the after-hours galas the pair oversaw following the Compound's 2 a.m. closing time. Disagreements with management at the venue led to a parting of the ways, but when business fell off in their absence, they were invited back for several more months.
Because of a second falling-out, the Kids are no longer Compound employees, but they insist that it hardly matters. They're happy as long as they can keep their dogs (they own three huge canines: Levithan, Nanookawa and Shastatika) healthy and their shelves stocked with the vegetarian fare they love. "We're completely vegan--or you might say we're militant vegetarians," the Kid explains. "No meat, no dairy products, no honey. I do have one pair of leather shoes, but I feel really bad about that."
The Sugar Twist Kids have also been paid to party in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York and other places where raving remains vital. And a recent vacation to Scandinavia turned into a business trip when entrepreneurs offered them a healthy sum to come into their clubs. Capitalizing on this growing name recognition, a Denver club jock, DJ Dealer, has released a disc dubbed Sugar Twist, With DJ Dealer. The recording is a sore subject with Peking and the Kid, whose voices are sampled throughout it. Although it's being played at some of the hipper underground spots here and in Europe, they're not getting any royalties. "All we got was one copy," the Kid grumbles. He's equally upset by the regularity with which unauthorized photographs of them are turning up in magazines and newspapers here and abroad. They're zealous about guarding their images; for example, they recently refused to do a television advertisement for Pepsi because they dislike the company's politics. The Kid says, "It would have been like doing a commercial for McDonald's."
By contrast, they are eager to promote clubbing, which they feel is vastly misunderstood by the general public. They were especially incensed by an episode of Leeza, a talk show hosted by Leeza Gibbons, concerning club kids.
"The whole show was talking about this destructive lifestyle," Peking fumes. "It was such a negative show. They had all these kids on there that you could tell weren't really clubbers, and all they were talking about was, 'Oh, yeah, I got raped,' or whatever. And none of them were defending themselves."
"They were more or less crybabies," the Kid adds, "trying to show off their makeup and their outfits and their big shoes, instead of defending what they were doing."
Attempts to register their complaints with the producers of Leeza failed, so the Kids contacted staffers at the Jerry Springer show. ("Jerry Springer is so rad," the Kid maintains.) The Springer representatives were enthusiastic, but their last-minute decision to put Peking and the Kid on the air coincided with an out-of-town gig; they missed connecting. So it was left to Carnie Wilson, daughter of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, to provide the Kid with a forum on her chat session, Carnie. Earlier this year, producers of the show, which will be canceled after the conclusion of this TV season, flew Peking, the Kid and his mother to New York for the taping. But at the last minute, the topic of the program (set to air Thursday, April 25, at noon on KDVR-TV/Channel 31) was switched from "Club Kids" to "Star Kids"--soon-to-be-famous young men, as introduced by their mothers.
In the main, the show went well, and the Kid enjoyed grossing out Carnie with his kidney-infection tale. But he was frustrated at not being given the chance to offer reassurances to other young club denizens and to his own kin. "I wanted to get a message out to my family about what I'm doing," he says. "Because I do want to be close to my family, and it's hard to reach some of them. But all they wanted from me was fire."
So what would the Kid have told America had he been given an opportunity? That you don't have to kowtow to all of society's dictates if they're not right for you. "Getting up in the morning, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, going to work, coming home, eating and going to bed--that's sick. To me, that's turning yourself into a robot. It's a cage--you're setting yourself up for failure if you do that. And you don't have to."
"I wish more people could just feel the freedom that we feel," Peking chimes in. "I used to be part of the normal, you-can't-do-this-and-you-can't-do-that lifestyle. But now I realize that where we are is the best place."
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"If you want to," the Kid says, "you can turn yourselves into the red apples on the tree--like we are."
They're not locked into living as they do now for all eternity. "If we make it through this part of our lives, I would really like to open up an animal sanctuary," the Kid reveals. "That's my long-term goal. But right now I can't do it, because our lifestyle is dangerous and fast. We've had people chase us from gas stations in the middle of nowhere. We've had people pull guns on us on highways. I even had to get into a fight with a drag queen once--she hit me with a little metal lunchbox she was carrying, so I grabbed her by the head and started de-weaving her wig. With so many crazies out there, we don't ever know when one of us might be taken out.
"But hopefully, if that happens," he goes on, "it'll be both of us at the same time."
Peking takes the Kid by the hand and smiles. "That's beautiful," she says.