TBR folks probably don't kick kittens or laugh at retarded kids, but I still never shook off the creepy factor. Maybe it's too easy to stereotype the young, single Dallas professional's lifestyle, but TBR members seem to structure their lives around making it out to Republic on Tuesdays or Martini Ranch for happy hour. I asked one TBR guy if he'd gotten himself anything special for his recent birthday, and he told me, "No, I'm pretty good to myself every day, and I already have everything I want." The people in TBR are headhunters, real estate agents and lawyers. They work in consulting or the finance industry. A few are waiters. Others may still be milking the parents. The kinds of jobs (or non-jobs) that, at the end of the day, probably do make you want to get wasted and play grab-ass with other people who validate their financial success by paying $9 for a martini.
The TBR founders repeatedly emphasized to me during interviews that membership in the club isn't all about how hot you are. Maybe they're just covering up for bad taste, but looking around the room, I decided that, in fact, one of the most disturbing things about TBR is the lack of truly attractive individuals. Particularly the men. Most of the guys are short, many of them are bald, and some of them are both. At the photo shoot, I asked Gretchen, a perky brunette with a wide smile, who the cutest guy in TBR was.
"There aren't really any cute guys," she said. "Well, I saw one earlier, but I think he left." As I surveyed the ladies around me, eyeing the occasional breast implant and "butter face" (she's hot, but her face), I decided no one in the room was even at a JC Penney catalog-model level of hotness. There was a lot of makeup, a lot of skimpy outfits and a lot of dyed heads--my own among them--but not a lot of natural beauty. Score one for the TBR qualifying board either being blind or not overly obsessed with looks. Oh dear, I thought, as the beret-wearing photographer clicked his camera behind me. Do I look like these people?
In an e-mail interview, the female half of the founding couple writes of TBR: "The name refers to a concept and does not necessarily refer to an individual's physical attributes...the reference to 'Beautiful' is all about an experience."
Even so, her explanation makes me want to throw up a little bit in my mouth. I mean, the TBR application asks for four full-length and close-up photos before you even get to tell them how much you love to save the baby seals and volunteer at Habitat for Humanity.
My mother, in her infinite skepticism, was sure that I was destined for a one-way trip to Date-Rape-Ville on this assignment. Every 30 minutes at the photo shoot, I dutifully text-messaged a co-worker, per Mom's instructions, to verify my safety. She was overreacting, I thought.
I stood in a corner, having just finished a safety text, and was joined by Alex, one of the original TBR members. A girl trotted in front of us, holding the hands of two guys on either side. They disappeared down a hallway.
"Yeah," sighed Alex. "That's what I'm talking about."
Alex told me a relative of his had just joined TBR, and she'd only found out that night that some people in the group might be in it for sex. It upset her. I asked him if it was a swingers' club.
"I'm comfortable being an outsider," he responded with a smirk. "Let's just say there are different levels of integration into The Beautiful Room."
A few weeks after the photo shoot, I joined a few of my closest beautiful friends at a housewarming party for member Shawn, a short, pudgy, dark-haired guy who, on the first night we'd met, called me at 3 a.m. asking me to join him and his friends in their room at Hotel ZaZa.
Shawn's North Dallas house is typical of area yuppies, outfitted with flat-screen televisions and a swimming pool. And a stripper pole mounted on a stage in his game room. And no fewer than eight fully adjustable showerheads at varying heights in the master suite bathroom.
According to the founders, the Beautiful Room is not a swingers' club and has nothing to do with sex. I never saw anything other than some drunken make-out sessions and adept mounting of Shawn's stripper pole. But does anything I've seen or heard make me comfortable dipping into The Beautiful Room petri dish? No freaking way.
Back at the Absinthe Lounge, where the party is winding down, I'm wound up. One of the event organizers is busy having a cow. The party, she says, is a disaster: The founder is plastered, and a guy named Jon is rambling over the DJ's mic. Out of the corner of my eye, I see three or four bodies writhing around on the lounge's low, canopied bed. You couldn't pay me to lay on that thing, I think. Not for all the Valtrex in the world.