It’s early on a school night and I’m sitting at a trim, six-seat bar in the middle of the Nevada desert, drunkenly arguing with a prostitute, a Madam and the world’s best-looking john about extraterrestrial life. Though the rural, neon-lit brothel we’re at is usually bustling with visitors, an earlier tour of the place reveals that tonight, the four of us are the only people here.
A little past tipsy on a heavy-handed tequila-soda served to me in a resplendent plastic cup, I assert my own Netflix-informed hypothesis about what’s really going on over at Area 51, the top-secret military base which just so happens to be about an hour’s drive away: “There aren’t actually aliens there,” I say, “but there are definitely alien craft.”
Behind us, a life-size cardboard cutout of Captain Kirk stands next to an alien statue whose disgruntled expression is fixated on the disembodied martian head sitting on a coffee table. Just beyond it, there’s a lonely stripper pole and a glass case filled with sex toys illuminated by rainbow-colored LED lighting, both of which are accented by a Hollywood studio’s worth of Star Wars, Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey paraphernalia tacked to the walls lest we forget exactly what kind of brothel we’re at. This, of course, is the Alien Cathouse, the country’s one and only fully legal, alien-themed bordello.
Originally set up by Bunny Ranch owner and so-called “sex mogul” Dennis Hof, the brothel claims its “cosmic kittens” from planet “Venus 69” will satisfy the “insatiable carnal desires” of our planet’s sexually repressed men and women with a “galaxy’s worth of lust.” Situated roughly 70 miles outside of Area 51 along a rural, yucca-dotted stretch of U.S. 95, the brothel — along with the gas station, restaurant, convenience store and gift shop attached to it — is the only place to piss, gas up and get a decent hand job for nearly a hundred miles. Out back, by the pool and bungalows — available for nightly rental — rumor has it that you can see the lights from Area 51 glowing in the distance. Satisfied customers on Yelp write that they’ve “seen a lot of sick things out there.”
The original purpose of my mission to the Cathouse had been to find out how they were preparing for Storm Area 51, the stampede of two million idiots that threatened to bum-rush the military base in order to “see them aliens.” Whenever a large-scale cultural event like it, the Super Bowl or a political convention takes place, sex workers and porn sites seem to be bombarded by requests from enthusiastic fans for services that cater to those themes. So I’ve come to find out whether Storm Area 51 — or its mutated cousin Alienstock — have inspired any similar requests. Is their alien abduction fantasy schedule fully booked? Have they been getting many requests for Princess Leia roleplay? Are they importing extra “kittens” to fulfill Area 51-bound Earthlings’ insatiable lust for E.T. strange?
The short answer, it appears, would be no. As the Madam of the house, a short, curvy brunette whose smiley, melodic voice sounds like she’s been main-lining Red Bulls for the past hour tells me, the brothel has no real plans nor shits to give about any of it. “Want to know what we’re doing for Storm Area 51?” she asks. “You’re looking at it.” So far, the only instructions they’ve received from the higher-ups about the incoming onslaught of desert visitors is that there will probably be more people calling and wanting tours than usual. “Big whoop,” says the Madam.
And so, I’ve settled on a different, much more meaningful pursuit: dutifully preaching the teachings of Bob Lazar, the whistle-blowing physicist supposedly hired to reverse-engineer alien spacecraft at Area 51 in the 1980s. “He says the craft are made of superhuman material,” I mumble, missing my mouth with my straw.
“Who’s Rob Laser?” asks Mercedes (a pseudonym), one of the cosmic kittens who the website tells me is “on an interstellar mission to bring erotic pleasure to the entire universe.” Her long, straight blonde hair frames a set of lush, meticulously applied lashes, a small, sloping nose and a full pout — she’s objectively attractive in that democratic, everyman kind of way, a quality that her silk robe and occasionally visible lace bra does little to diminish.
Over a small can of Dole pineapple juice, Mercedes reveals she’s 23, an ex-stripper and a biology student. She’s been at the Alien Cathouse for about three weeks, but so far no one’s asked her to do anything even remotely space-themed. In fact, hardly anyone makes use of the “wet” room, an area the brothel dedicates to messier fetishes like sploshing, and in rare instances, alien goo scenes. They used to have a BDSM-themed “probing room,” but it’s non-operational at the moment. Someone broke some of the equipment and never replaced it, so now, it’s just a room where terrestrial organisms have truck-stop sex.
Mercedes says most of the girls who work at the Cathouse stay there full-time for about a month. They each have their own bedroom and bathroom, which they pay for apartment-style by spending time with clients. There are about 20 girls listed on the Alien Cathouse website, but only between four and eight stay there at a time. The brothel is open 24/7, but there aren’t a ton of clients looking for galactic blow jobs during the day, so there’s a lot of downtime to consider the finer points of topics like Bob Lazar. I give Mercedes the CliffsNotes version: He told people things about Area 51 he wasn’t supposed to, and the government ruined his life. In fact, I slur, it’s partially because of the newly released documentary on his life and his discoveries that Storm Area 51 has ballooned into such a freakishly large cultural monstrosity.
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” says John, the john sitting at the end of the bar. He doesn’t look up from his phone or bother to offer an explanation why; he just takes a drag of his cigarette and flicks his thumb horizontally across his screen, swiping at something my prying eyes can’t see.
John, I’ll have you know, is disgustingly handsome. He’s bald with sculpted arms and piercing blue eyes that sit almost too symmetrically under a pair of kind-looking, upturned eyebrows. His face wears an expression of permanent approachableness that says, “Hey you, I’m here to help!” but there’s something about the way he waves off a freshly arrived cosmic kitten wearing red lingerie that seems more sinister than that. Is he tough but tender? I decide to find out.
I scoot a seat closer to him. “What’s a gal like you doing in a place like this?” I ask him, my drunken attempt at playfulness flying higher above his head than a UFO.
“Not shit,” he says, still looking at his phone. “I didn’t even know this was here.” Like many of Area 51’s visitors, he insists he was just minding his own business, long-haul trucking, when he pulled over to get some gas. Noticing an ostentatiously pink building behind the diesel pumps with an electronic marquee gleefully advertising “Girls Girls Girls! Red Light Girls!” he stopped in to take a peek.
Like all Cathouse guests, he’d rung the doorbell to enter. If things had gone according to brothel protocol, all the girls who weren’t busy would have lined up at the door to greet him and he could have selected the one who piqued his fancy the most. But when he got here, Mercedes was the only one available for reproductive compartment probing. That didn’t matter to John — he just wanted a drink. He sat at the bar and ordered five, maybe six beers before I even got there.
“Do people honestly think they’re going to bum-rush the most heavily guarded government facility in the country and walk in on some little green men?” he asks aloud, flicking his cigarette into an ashtray. “I’d rather be making little green dollars driving trucks across the country than looking for little green men, not like these ninnyhammer alien hunters out here trying to get dehydrated in the desert.”
“I’ll tell you where the aliens are,” he continues. “They’re walking among us. Think they can conduct research on our kind without going undercover? Think again. Have you ever seen that movie Under the Skin where Scarlett Johansson wears guys’ skin? It’s like that. They blink vertically, which is how you can tell.”
I spend the next few seconds rapidly reassessing my attraction to John, but his sudden descent into YouTube conspiracy theories has no effect on Mercedes, who nods rapidly like he’s just solved an impossible puzzle she’s been working on in her own mind, too.
Earlier, she’d confessed to me that being a world-class sex worker at the country’s only sci-fi themed brothel can be fun, but it’s also impossibly boring sometimes. With nothing to do for hours on end while she waits for clients to arrive, she invents games to keep herself entertained. One game she likes to play is pretending to be fascinated by the brothel visitors who don’t want sex just to egg them on. The more attention she pays to them, the funnier things they say. As she turns her full body toward John and flips her hair over her shoulder, I wonder if she’s playing this game with him.
“Well, I definitely don’t think aliens are little and green,” Mercedes says resolutely, twirling her hair around her finger. “So I do agree that they’ve assumed human form. But, like, what would they even be doing here, anyways?”
“Here’s the thing,” chimes in the previously silent fourth person here, the Madam of the house (despite being well-advertised on the Twitterverse, she doesn’t want to be mentioned by name). “If there were aliens, they’re not going to just show up on command at Storm Area 51 or whatever event alien people are having. That would be cool, but I don’t think they’re showy like that, you know? You can’t plan to see aliens.”
“I don’t even think aliens have limbs,” I cut in, now on my second drink (full disclosure: I’m a lightweight). “It’s so narcissistic that we’d think they’d look anything like us! I mean, these guys have anti-gravity, or so they say. They’ve got states of matter we can’t even comprehend. What would possibly make us think that in a world like that, with plasma and shit, that they’d just be walking around on two feet like bipeds with two eyes, hands and knees? Is that not so incredibly self-absorbed?”
Mercedes flutters her lashes and kindly bobs her head up and down in agreement as if she has any idea what I’m talking about. “I think they’re just clouds,” she says. “And they’re probably invisible.”
“They’re not invisible,” says John, taking a swig of beer. “It’s just that no one ever sees them because they’re smarter than us. They can hide in plain sight.” It’s funny watching him get so defensive — he’s trying to flirt with her, but he’s also trying to be right about a topic that has no answers.
“What are they even doing here, do you think?” Mercedes asks again, fully aware that she’s making him want more than another beer. She can smell the makings of a potential client so she’s in the conversation now, signed on and fully rapt in the expert way only people who are paid to feign interest can be. “Like, this planet is so boring! Go find something exciting somewhere else!”
John’s pretty sure they’ve been sent here to collect data, he says. Our Earth might be inhabitable to them some day. Maybe they’re window shopping for real estate; potential homeowners stopping by on an intergalactic open house tour. That, or they’re monitoring our evolutionary progress, keeping track of how far technology gets so they know whether to nuke us with lasers or not.
Inside the brothel, with its vaguely space-themed costume rack, lava lamps and collection of randomly dispersed disembodied alien heads, I’m beginning to lose my patience for John’s profundity. Not wanting to ruin the moment between him and Mercedes, I wander outside into the pastel lavender sunset, past the truckers filling up their 18-wheelers and into the gift shop. Obviously, everything inside is alien-themed. There are Area 51 mugs, UFO hats, E.T. shot glasses and shirts that say “Area 51 Adult Club: Totally Topless but Who Cares?”
Jackie, one of the assistant managers, stands behind the counter pranking customers with a lighter shaped like a small pistol. She is short, caramel-skinned and voluptuous with drawn-on eyebrows and black hair slicked back into a top bun. She gets people to try the lighter by telling them it’s the best lighter she’s ever used. When they press the trigger, it shocks them, and they scream. Then she points at them and laughs. I know this because I lived it.
“Do you believe in aliens?” I ask her, shaking the sensation back into my trigger finger. “Fuck no!” she says. “I don’t believe in no aliens. My step-dad is all into them or whatever, and he’s full of shit so, you know, that kinda ruined it for me.” I stare at her for a second, taking in the strangely satisfying irony of a non-believer being absolutely surrounded by aliens.
As we’re talking, the phone rings and she picks it up. I can’t hear what the person on the other end is saying, but Jackie’s response gives me a hint. “No, we’re not having a Storm Area 51 party!” she says, echoing the Madam’s earlier flippancy about the coming weekend. “Why does everyone think that?”
Apparently, people have been calling the store non-stop asking what she and the other employees think about this crazy alien festival. They want to know if they can park their campers there and if there have been any alien sightings recently. “I’m not going to pick up the phone anymore,” she sighs.
Still, she gets it. “People need something to believe in,” she says, resting her elbows on the counter in repose. “I wish people would come together for something a little more important than aliens, but you know what? Anytime people come together, it means something.”