As I recalled earlier this year in the introduction to “A Fascinating History of Poppers,” my first experience with Amyl Nitrites — the beloved recreational inhalant of the gay community — came in the back room of a sleazy East Village dive bar, where groping is encouraged and not-yet-dried semen sometimes sticks to the sole of your shoes. Those who love poppers, like the men who regularly post on the r/popperpigs subreddit, point to “relaxed sphincter muscles” as the prime benefit, along with a “complete loss of inhibitions” and “wanting to get fucked more than anything else in the world.”
As I (barely) recall, part of the experience also includes a momentary panic that something has gone critically wrong deep inside of your brain. So this is what a stroke feels like, I remember thinking before attempting to mouthfuck a twink in a broom closet. Sometimes, though, the side effects — i.e., anemia, pounding headaches and/or lips and fingernails turning blue — can last much longer than a moment.
So when my friend Richard Morgan, a distinguished author whom I first met via Craigslist M4M in the mid-aughts, mentioned a new “organic” popper called “Double Scorpio,” it struck me as a bit oxymoronic. “I think it’s for guys who want to burst their capillaries while also receiving the health benefits of agave,” he suggested on a recent walk in Playa del Rey.
In fact, Double Scorpio is the brainchild of 32-year-old former radiologic technologist Julian Eternal and his boyfriend Brian, a chemist, who live in Austin, Texas. (Both are Scorpios, hence the name.) Fittingly perhaps, Double Scorpio’s story begins on a bus redesigned to look like a giant sheep at Burning Man in 2014. “I was on a lot of different things that day, talking with a drag queen about our mutual fondness for cleaners,” Eternal tells me. (To evade anti-drug laws, poppers are often packaged as “VHS tape head cleaners” and “room deodorizers.”) He decided, upon returning to the real world, to create a Facebook group celebrating such cleaners and began selling enamel pins featuring a tombstone inscribed with “Your Hole,” which immediately sold out.
Making an actual product then, was the logical next step. He was planning to buy pre-made poppers and slapping his own label on the bottle when Brian, who was working toward his PhD in chemistry, entered the picture. “Brian bragged, ‘I can make this!’” Eternal says. “Which I think was him trying to impress me.”
Brian got to work in a dirt-floored shed in Eternal’s backyard, on a quest to construct the “cleanest” popper on the planet. And despite a few hiccups (a chemical spill resulted in a nasty acid burn), that’s exactly what they ended up with: pure isobutyl nitrate. “We started the company because we were tired of companies selling stuff to our community that fucked them up,” Eternal says. “A lot of other [popper] brands claim they’re pure, but you have no idea what you’re getting because there’s no regulation.” Some are laced with ether and acid, he tells me, as well as random chemical preservatives to maximize shelf-life that “fuck up your head up, burn your nose and cause gnarly eye problems. We neutralize all the acid; other than some natural fragrances, Double Scorpio is pure isobutyl nitrite.”
He stops short of calling the product “organic,” though, noting strict legal specifications required to earn that specification. He opts instead for “organic chemistry.”
One batch at a time, the duo began selling their unique blend of “farm-to-disco” VHS cleaner — there are literally cows feeding in the field behind their lab in Austin — to friends at local queer dance parties and leather bars. They also developed a following on Reddit. David, a 36-year-old from North Port Florida on r/popperpigs, says poppers help to relax his sphincter muscles when he masturbates daily with a dildo. But after recently discovering Double Scorpio, he predicts it will be the last brand he ever uses, thanks to “no headaches or horrid smell distracting my partner from the moment.”
“It’s like food,” agrees 22-year-old Christian in South Jersey, who tells me that just as he wants farm-fresh vegetables, freshly caught fish and properly slaughtered meat, he prefers artisanal poppers (The Double Scorpio Emerald blend, with a hint of peppermint and a dash of eucalyptus, is his favorite, one hit of which leaves him “off my rocker.”) “It’s better quality, and you taste the difference,” he adds. “A man who never drank Patron may never know he likes tequila. I go to a sex shop and who knows how long that bottle of Amsterdam or Rush has been on the shelf.”
Eternal insists each bottle of Double Scorpio is made by hand and that they only recently purchased a machine to label the bottles. Despite the product now being sold in six cities nationwide (Chicago, L.A., D.C., San Francisco, Dallas and Houston), it’s still distributed in small batches. The owner of Rough Trade Gear here in L.A., sells me a bottle of Double Scorpio Honey and says it flies off his shelf. “That’s pretty much the case for all our wholesalers,” Eternal says. “So if you happen to see our product, it’s likely no more than a couple weeks old.”
Marketing-wise, Eternal says the motif they’re going for is “1980s cleaner company.” (After all, he’s selling a “VHS cleaner.”) As such, the analog and glitchy website has a decidedly GeoCities feel to it. Eternal tapped his roommate, 35-year-old experimental comedian Jeremy von Stilb, to write a retro infomercial with creative partner Michael Lukenbill. It stars gender-fluid internet sensation Freckle, who is fully committed to keeping your collection of naughty VHS tapes in tip-top shape.
“I don’t know what other purpose people use VCR cleaner for,” Freckle responds defensively when I ask about her appearance promoting Double Scorpio. “I was a school teacher. I’m not promoting anything when it comes to drug use, other than legal marijuana, prescription drugs and maybe licking of a toad.”
The inspiration for the spoof, von Stilb tells me, came from the absurdity of poppers being referred to as VHS cleaners. “When you go to a sex store, they always have hilarious names like ‘room deodorizer’ or ‘nail polish remover.’ It evoked memories of Ron Popeil infomercials coming on, at which point, I’d know Saturday morning cartoons were over. I guess it hauntingly stuck with me over the years. The VHS obviously lent itself to a 1980s motif, and Freckle was blowing up on Tumblr. So we just imagined her doing a Ron Popeil infomercial plus Arthur C. Clarke’s Cosmos.”
Eternal says Freckle also served to expand the Double Scorpio tent. “She just seemed really down-to-earth and cool, and not such an obvious candidate for a product like this. I feel like the gay market is really saturated with the cliché muscle-heads, and I like working with trans and queer people. So I wanted to make our company look like as diverse as the LGBTQ community really is.”
For old times sake, I cracked open that bottle of Double Scorpio Honey during a recent wank session. Maybe I’ve been out of the game for too long, but holy shit, one hit was a like a cerebral sensory explosion — the most intensely satisfying popper high I’ve ever had. Mercifully, though, there wasn’t a momentary panic about an impending stroke.
But alas, there wasn’t a twink in a broom closet either.