Part 1: The Idea
"Bitch!" I grumbled, frowning as I attempted to reach the disposable lighter I'd just dropped. I grabbed my aluminum crutch in a murderous death grip and, using the foam rubber padded top end, reached out and dragged the flamingo pink Bic back to me with it. I guess I was as comfortable as could be expected with my broken left leg propped up on one of my chrome and black vinyl barstools--per doctor's orders--so it was elevated higher than my heart.
I certainly intended to be a lot more comfortable as I reached for the Petoskey stone pipe filled with marijuana setting on one of the faux gray granite cube tables my father made for me. I changed position in the big charcoal wingback I was sitting in before lighting up. My moods lately had consisted mostly of violent outbursts of temper and periods of dark depression, due in part to total frustration like I'd never experienced before, nor thankfully, have I since. Never had I been totally helpless.
Since losing my driver's license for my third offense of drunk driving--oh, now, there's no point in delving into that tired old story!--and long before, I have always walked wherever I needed or wanted to go. Quite often, I'd even go bar hopping! Walking! By the gods, one time, I thought I'd never be able to walk again after a night of drinking in Cuban heels! I suppose I was a familiar sight to the residents of Queen City, walking about town, long flowing blonde hair billowing in the ever-present breeze from the Bay as I strode along the pink painted sidewalks. So while it is, indeed, devastating when anyone breaks a leg, it was tenfold more so for me--I'd also lost my means of transportation.
Then there was the pain. Not just in my ankle, where the spiral fracture in the fibula actually was and the pain was excruciating, but throughout my entire body. My back, where the vertebrae had been violently twisted and turned and displaced in the fall. My neck, where tense, stressed-out muscles knotted themselves into a taut ball with long pulsating fingers of pain shooting up throughout my head and down into my shoulders and back. The pain pills (What was their name again? I could never remember when visitors asked. Oh, yes! Percodan!) didn't seem to even begin to ease the terrible pain.
But, by far, even worse than the horrible pain, was the helplessness. Oh, how I wept bitterly when I was all alone over my devastating disability! I couldn't even carry my own cup of coffee! Although I asked everybody and believe me, they were More than happy to offer their suggestions gained from a similar experience (or a totally unrelated one, for that matter!), perhaps ten or twenty years prior to my own catastrophe, nobody could come up with a plausible solution to the aggravating dilemma of how to carry a cup of coffee with crutches.
Thank the gods for my renter, D.J. Priest, who, of his own accord had taken to making a pot of Java and setting it on the cube table in a black glass carafe within easy reach for me before leaving for work each day. D.J. was certainly a saint--how else could I have managed through this horrid ordeal without him?
I would've had to call on my beloved mother, Etha. In her youth, Mom's dark, sultry beauty was often compared with that of her kinswoman, the legendary German screen goddess, Hedy Lamarr. Before the star's passing, whenever I would inform Mom of the fact that she, with her flawless complexion, sparkling devilish hazel eyes, and hard-working, yet elegant hands, looked better than Hedy's latest photos in a fan magazine, she would beam with pleasure. In fact, it was true, although over the years, Mom's evolved into more of a cross between Martha Raye and Toti Fields with short, curly flaming red hair and a quick, dry wit. Dynamic and energetic, Mom has always seemed to be at least one step ahead of her time, lending an ear or a hug to anybody needing one and, whether she intends to or not, she's always the center of attention. Everybody loves her! I've learned from experience over the years not to trust anybody that doesn't. It's never proved wrong, yet. Truly my best friend and fan, she's only missed a few of my shows (invariably due to Northern Michigan's winter blizzards) in a career that has spanned never mind how many years. Calling on Mom to help me was the last thing on Earth I wanted to do. Not because she might've been unwilling--just the opposite--but it would've disrupted her busy lifestyle. Besides, with Mom's constant fussing and spoiling and my whining and nasty fits of ruthless bitchiness, in a short matter of time, we would've gotten on each other's nerves and mine were already shot. And I wouldn't want to hurt my mother's feelings for anything.
I considered myself fortunate, therefore, to have D.J. as an upstairs roommate. D.J. is a tall, rather well-built amiable Pollock in his mid-thirties with a hairy body (a rug could be made from his back!), massive brown mustache, and twinkling mischievous brown eyes. The type of gay man who, when asked if he's tried the latest decadent sex craze someone has read about in a pornographic magazine will merely smile, lick his lips and leer at the youngest man in the group. We used to be an item many moons ago, but he's a Cancer and a homebody and I'm a Capricorn--always ready for fun and adventure. We discovered over the course of time that we make much better friends than lovers and now, after all these years, we're more like brothers. To Mom, he's Son Number Two. That's something I've realized about gay society--we tend to "adopt" one another. Since I've become an adult, I've adopted and been adopted by several people. Not just the Sisters, either. Being gay, sometimes we're all we have because families sometimes disown gay family members. And absolutely everyone adopted Mom.
Then there were the many visitors. It's certainly no exaggeration when I say that when I broke my ankle, a three-month long party began. I'll never forget nineteen-ninety-three! People would come to Pine House (my humble abode), party until they passed out, wake up, go to work, and return afterwards to repeat the cycle. One sweetheart named Allen used to come and sing me to sleep. I wanted to marry him, but he always said I deserved better. Damnit! There were people coming and going twenty-four hours a day! Some were truly my friends, who were concerned for my welfare and brought, along with their sincere wishes for a speedy recovery, food, alcohol, drugs, cards, flowers, and pot. By the gods, I'd never received so many flowers as I had since the accident! Other people were, however, merely gawkers. Bastards I barely knew came under some preposterous pretense simply to see me at home, incapacitated, and without my usual makeup and attire. Not the usually gracious, though admittedly sometimes when provoked a volatile host, but instead, a hardly recognizable hollow shell of my former self. Pale and bloated, with a poisonous brew bubbling in my veins and overflowing with hatred for myself, my lot in Life, and the world in general. I was feeling completely unloved and unwanted, yet generally people surrounded me nonstop. In short, I was having the biggest pity party I could muster.
"Where are my friends now?" I wailed to the air about me, on the verge of tears again, as I had hundreds of times since the accident. I'd asked the same question many times in the past when I thought my friends had deserted me for one reason or another, and here I sat once again, all alone. I personally think that the feeling of loneliness is the worst sensation a living thing must ever endure--infinitely worse than any physical pain--and it's even worse when it's imagined, for the mind can trick you. Manipulating the rather mild feeling of loneliness into a full-blown case of depression, which I guess is about where I was at.
I glanced at the envelope on the table beside me. Very official looking with its typewritten addresses, I reflected, considering its contents. That was the last straw. The proverbial straw, as I would usually say. I always like to use big words whenever I can so people don't really think I'm dumb just because I have blonde hair. I might not be the brightest light in the crystal chandelier, but I'm not dumb! It's bleached, anyway. Being blonde just feels natural to me, so I bleach my hair. Most everybody forgets that fact even though they know. Especially my friends. They know. But sometimes they still forget. The more attentive ones could tell you lots of trivia about my many idiosyncrasies and past escapades, like the Bugman and the Black Velvet. I hope you never meet any of them!
Whether true friend or mere acquaintance, all the guests helped in some way--made a fresh carafe of coffee, rolled one of hundreds of joints (believe it or not, as much as I love Bud, I've never gotten the knack for rolling, though many an interesting man has shown me many an interesting way of doing it--rolling, I mean),prepared food, mixed drinks, or popped open a fresh beer.
I had, on my own, struck upon the idea of fastening a black denim cloth bag that seamstress Mom had made for me onto the handgrip of one of the crutches by unscrewing it and thus provided myself with a means of transportation for my books, writing materials, and anything nonspillable. At least I could manage that for myself! I thought of my many visitors as my salvation and when they weren't around, like now, I was devastated for, true to my Capricornian nature, I love being the center of attention. Who ya gonna perform for when nobody's there?
Lots of people were fascinated by the fact that here sat Benjamin Drake, known to many in Queen City as Ginger McRae, disabled. I guess I was a unique sight walking about town, day or night, with an enviable vitality. Now here I was, practically unmoving, so great was my distress. I felt like a wild, free animal suddenly caged and my utter frustration was obvious to all those who came to see me. An injured animal, at that!
How I became Ginger McRae still amazes even me. It was sort of like a minuscule version of of one of those old Hollywood overnight "star" legends, although, of course, it certainly didn't happen overnight and I haven't gotten big enough to make it to Tinseltown. Yet. From the time I set my Goodwill-clad foot onstage to enter a talent show performing "Cross Over The Bridge" by Patti Page, my career as a drag queen was pretty much confirmed and out of my control. I was the only contestant in the show and won twenty-five dollars at a private gay men's club called the Bunkhouse North just outside Queen City. There never seemed to be any question of me not being a female impersonator. Even my stage name was chosen by a vote of the club members. Well, actually, I was given the choice between "Rusty" and "Ginger", but I could already imagine the ribald possibilities of "Rusty" in my young brain, so I chose "Ginger". Bless them, at least they let me choose my own surname or who knows who I might have been! "McRae" just sounded Right to me and I've been Ginger McRae ever since.
Three "famous" drag queens had come up from Lansing to Summer at the Bunkhouse North when I started going there. The unopposed leader of the trio, Tina Jasmine, was tall, six-foot-six, lanky with huge hands and feet, billed himself as The World's Tallest Drag Queen, was a former Miss Milwaukee, had worked the Circuit (whatever that was), became a dear friend and roommate, and was a bitch.
Leslie Harrington was shorter, pear-shaped, looked exactly like Karen Black when he was in drag, was disgustingly effeminate, was a Miss Something in Lansing, always made me laugh because at some time during each of his performances to emphasize a serious, highly dramatic point he would squat down tensing his body and making such a distraught face, to me it appeared he was trying to defecate onstage (a young, innocent observation not appreciated in the least by Leslie), became a friend and roommate, and was a whiny bitch.
The third and by far the most convincing and talented (sorry, Tina!) was Jaime Lee. He was medium-built, the very best Judy Garland I've ever seen (he also did Liza Minnelli, but his nose wasn't really big enough), was also a Miss Something in Lansing, always made me weep when he did "Over The Rainbow", fled the Bunkhouse North in the middle of the night after being confronted by Tina and Leslie with the fact that he hadn't been divvying up their salaries correctly, and was an arrogant, evil bitch. With no eyebrows.
When those three did Bette Midler's version of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (to perfection, as far as I was concerned) as the entertainment in the contest I won, I was stage-struck.
Such were the trio that began to change a young caterpillar into a colorful butterfly, although lately, I feel more like a moth. I say, "began", because others had a hand in my metamorphosis, which still continues and probably always will. I don't want to get stagnant!
The "Downstate Bitches", as they were referred to by the club members, taught me absolutely everything I needed to know to be a drag queen, from the proper application of stage makeup (to this day, if I "beat" someone else's face they wind up looking like me) to how to hold my hands so they would appear smaller onstage. That never worked for Tina, though. I also learned my first phrases of gay vernacular. False eyelashes were referred to by most as Batwings. Earrings were Earbobs. Fake nails were, naturally, Claws. And rhinestones were Drag Queen Diamonds. Although they didn't teach me too well! As I look back now, I think they didn't want any more competition! As if little old me would've been any threat to those three seasoned divas! I may now be well-known, but I have never claimed to be a good drag queen and certainly nowhere in the realm of the three that got me started. One fan glowed when he told me, "You may not dance much, Ginger, but you sure do walk well!" I took that one home. Drag queens are funny that way, though. Gay men in general, I guess. Thirty is old to a gay man. Forty is troll. Fifty is fossil. And after that, you better have lots of money!
Anyway, from then on, Ginger McRae was pretty much a public creation, urged and ordered on by Tina, Jaime, and Leslie, who arranged everything to make me a Star. Sounds so egotistical, doesn't it? There were endless lessons in lip-syncing, stage gestures, dance steps, and what a drag queen does and doesn't do, which I really tried to follow, but I've always been a bit of a rebel.
I remember one incident in particular that rustled their boa feathers. I'd seen all three of them, at one point or another, work their way over to a table near the stage and take a drink while they were doing their numbers and, of course, it was a great way to gather tips. It made them appear to me as polished performers, so at ease onstage that they could do something else while performing like Dean Martin or Jackie Gleason. I thought I'd try it, not knowing there would be such a big reaction to it. I practiced and practiced at home until I thought I had the routine down pretty good and made sure I had a glass on a table waiting for me. So I did it. When I went back to the dressing room after the number feeling pretty good, however, the three of them stood glaring coldly at me like I was a stupid stepchild or something. After an unendurable silence, Tina spoke sternly, "What did you do out there?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, thinking I'd done something drastically wrong, like when the back of my skirt was caught up in my belt when I did "Like A Virgin". The audience thought I was doing a comedy number, so it all was okeetokee, except with the three Bitches.
"Don't drink when you're performing!" Jaime snapped viciously.
"Why?" I was shocked. I thought that I'd pulled it off rather well, though of course, not nearly as smoothly as them.
"It's not Ladylike!" Leslie whined. "You don't want the audience thinking you're a drunk, do you?"
"But you Girls do it!" I retorted defending myself.
"That's different!" Jaime snarled.
"We're old and everybody knows we're drunks!" Leslie whined the obvious.
"Don't do anything onstage we haven't approved!" Tina stated with finality.
Unknowingly, my experiment went against their ideas of who Ginger McRae was to become.
After one of those shows at the Bunkhouse North is when I first heard of and met the legendary Detroit star, Barbra Strysand, who now resided in Queen City. The Great Star said in a very nasally voice and inclined head that he was "impressed" and that "someday we should work togethah". I was star-struck. Then I got to know him.
For publicity purposes, I did benefit shows and whenever there was a gay event and a blonde queen was wanted for a little decoration, I was there. I was even hired to attend private straight parties to add some color, I guess. Didn't have to perform or anything--just smoke as much of their pot as I wanted, drink as much of their alcohol as I wanted, and answer the other guest's questions, which were numerous and bizarre. Rarely did I ever get hit on, the conversations more likely being my giving tips to both the females and the closeted males in the group. And they paid me! Photo shoots were arranged and taken every time my Look changed, which occurred with each new suggestion from peers and club members. Dresses were made and songs chosen with hardly, if any, consideration of my opinions or feelings. The three "Downstate Bitches" were hell-bent on making me a well-known star and I guess, in a way, they succeeded.
To ease the pain and as a token of their concern, my dear friends came bearing gifts of drugs and alcohol which were always gratefully accepted and readily consumed, so much so that the days and nights seemed to blur together.
I took a third hit off the stone pipe and set it on the table. The bright cherry red high-heeled telephone that D.J. had given me for one of my twenty-first birthdays blared loudly and disrupted my thoughts. It startled me, so I picked it up with irritation and answered rudely.
"Jesus H. Christ! Who the hell sunk your fucking Cheerios?"
"Who is this?" I snapped, feeling anything but cordial.
"Rose. Are you alright, Little Sister?" The voice on the other end of the line was familiar and welcome to hear.
"No, I'm not alright! I'm in severe pain and nobody even gives a shit!" I pouted.
"That's simply not true, my Little Dumpling Butt! I give a shit and you know perfectly well you're my favorite turd!
Rose is jolly and whether I admitted it or not, I needed that. If anybody on Earth could drag me up out of the depths of despair, it was Rose. Dear Rose. Rose Elliott who, like me, is also known by another name, Elliott Rose, and who obviously chose his own stage name. We are two of a trio of drag queens in Queen City who bill ourselves as The Northern Stars. With all humility, I would venture to say that we're rather well known, but my critics would say that I'm an egotist. Fuck 'em!
A little shorter than me and quite a bit more gravitationally challenged, when in drag, Rose reminds me of Sally Spectra on "The Bold And The Beautiful", but with a lighter outlook on Life. Besides working with me at Rosegarden Nursing Home as P.B.W.s (that's Professional Butt Wipers for those who don't know), he's always on the verge of getting a settlement from one of many lawsuits, most of which he wins (with the assistance of the family lawyer). His home is a veritable photo layout from "Better Homes And Gardens". In the picture-perfect model kitchen, glass-doored oak cupboards display antique dishes and various knickknacks inherited from his mother. Ninety-some cookbooks placed neatly on oak shelves line the walls, with dozens of oak cabinets for storage of his countless small appliances and cooking equipment. White oak floors and an antique round oak table and chairs set completes the feeling of sturdy, timeless quality. The walnut-paneled living room is dominated by a massive overstuffed violet velvet sofa and accented with Queen Anne. A sparkling large lead crystal table lighter and matching ashtray are on the coffee table, while matching sterling silver framed publicity photographs of the third and by far, most acidic Sister, Barbra Strysand, also known as Stuart Archer, and myself are carefully positioned on the highly polished glistening end tables.
"Sissy, I'm sorry, " I apologized, but I just can't get used to this horrid helplessness and I'm really irritable."
"Really? I hardly noticed." Had it been anyone else, I would've verbally torn them to shreds!
"So what are you up to, today?" I attempted to lighten the mood. Besides, Rose always has the best dirt on everything, so I added, "Got any good dirt?"
We're accustomed to calling each other several times a week and carrying on conversations for hours, I think our record actually being three and a half hours, taking periodic potty breaks and filling our coffee cups, of course.
"I was wondering what you're doing this afternoon," Rose seemed distant.
"Not much with this damned cast on my leg! Why?" I retorted.
"I thought we'd go shopping!" Rose was up to something. I can always tell these things. "It's such a beautiful day!"
"What! It's March!"
"So? It's a gorgeous day!" It was, but I wasn't admitting it to Rose. "So let's go shopping!"
"Rose, I have a damned cast on my leg, I'm in major pain, I'm broke, and I simply don't feel like it!"
"Why, I am not!" I responded, highly affronted. I was whining, but there was no way in hell I was admitting that to Rose, either.
"When was the last time you were out of that fucking house?"
There was a prolonged silence while I intently tried to remember.
More silence. I just couldn't recall!
"I'm waiting," I could almost hear Rose tapping his foot.
"I'm thinking, I'm thinking!" I burst out in frustration.
"Exactly as I thought! That settles it! I'll pick you up at noon."
"Hey! Wait a minute! I can't!" I wailed.
"Why?" Rose was being exasperatingly calm, yet at the same time, very persistent.
"I have a broken leg, that's why!"
"You have crutches. "
"I am not hobbling all over a mall on crutches!"
"Malls have those cute little electric carts for crips like you."
"Well, I never!" Though it's typical, I was aghast at his boldness.
"Oh, yes, you have, but let's not get into that right now. Noon it is, then!"
"No, can't!" But couldn't think of a single excuse that Rose would buy.
"Just because. Why don't you just leave me alone like everybody else does?" I was frantic.
"Because I'm your Sister and I love you. " I slowly began to soften. Those three words have gotten me into more trouble, caused me more adventure and heartbreaks than you could ever possibly imagine. Rose continued, "Besides, I know you and I know what your house has been like since the accident. One big fucking party! Everyone knows about Pine House!"
I laughed nervously, "So what's new about that?"
"Right now, I'll bet you're sitting there, stoned to the bone, feeling sorry for yourself, your wild imagination making you think nobody loves you or cares about you when, in reality, you're being overwhelmed with attention and this is probably the first time you've been alone in days." Damn Rose, anyway! He always hits the nail right on the head! "Now, would you like to tell me again why you can't go?"
"I'm in pain!"
"Wah! You're being a pain! I highly doubt, with all the drugs flowing into that house, that you can feel much of anything, much less pain! Bring your pills and your Fudge!" Rose always has an answer for everything! Fudge is Mom's code word for marijuana when she's talking to us about it and we Sisters sort of picked it up.
"I'm broke!" I was desperate, but relenting.
"That, my dear Ginger, is a very lame excuse. I just got a settlement, remember?" I did, but I always feel so guilty when someone pays my way although I knew Rose wouldn't have offered if he wasn't sincere.
"I don't feel like it," I answered meekly, not knowing what else to say. Surrender by this point was imminent.
"Now, you look, Young Lady!" The heavyset redheaded drag queen began his final battle assault. "I've had just about enough of your whining bullshit! Who's the person who's always lectured me about living Life to the fullest? 'Live each day as if it's your last!' Who the fuck was that? Hmmm? I always thought Life is just a big shit sandwich and every day you're forced to take another bite. Now I finally want to do something with my Life and you're fucking whining and combitching about your fucking leg! There are worse things in Life than having a broken leg, you spoiled little bitch! Now," Rose spoke with final authority, "You are getting out of that bathhouse of a home and you are going on this sperm of the moment shopping spree! Like it or not!"
"Oh, all right!"
"I knew you would!"
"By the gods, you English people are so stubborn!" I was completely exasperated!
"Just like our bulldogs! And like you're not! Fucking little German-Irish Lass! Besides, I want to tell you something." His tone of voice made a little red flag pop up in my brain. I listened more intently.
"I'd rather not discuss it over the telephone." Still aloof.
"Is it dirt?"
"I suppose. Sort of." Evasive.
"I'll tell you later...on the trip." Secretive.
"Hey! Trip? Wait a minute! Where the hell are we going shopping?"
"Saginaw." Rose was so calm and quiet about this latest revelation that I totally forgot his prior mysterious behavior.
"What? Saginaw! I can't go clear to Saginaw with a broken fucking leg!"
"Don't start with your fucking shit again, Missy!"
"Don't call me, 'Missy'! You know it always makes me think of that fat obnoxious bitch from Mackinaw Island!"
Ignoring me, Rose continued, "I've already discussed it with Barbra and she said she'd..."
That did it! "Oh, no!" I vehemently interrupted, "I am not going anywhere with that evil old bitch!"
"Why? Barbra said she'd go if you go and we'll fix you up in the backseat with pillows and everything else, plus I'm footing the bill, so what's the fucking problem?" Was it possible that Rose really didn't know?
"Is Babs still pissed at me?"
"Pissed? I don't think so. She certainly didn't seem like it. She'll only go if you go. Why?"
"Don't you remember about three weeks ago, I told you she sent me a nasty note?"
Rose was thoughtful, "Yeah, I do seem to recall you mentioned it to me, but I didn't read it or anything."
"Well, I've received two more since then, each more vicious than the last. Hold on," I said, grabbing the letters from the granite cube table next to me. "I got the last one in today's mail and I've got all three right here. I'll read them to you although it's going to be hard with all the misspellings and poor typing."
"She was probably drunk," the redhead on the other end of the line stated flatly.
"Oh, I don't think so--she mentions something about being on the wagon again in one of them."
Rose laughed heartily, "Bullshit!"
"Well, at any rate, basically, in the first note, she's pissed at me because I was rude to her at our last show at Gayz R Us." It was true. I never denied it. I had been a bitch to the great Barbra Strysand, but only in self-defense because he'd been so vile to me in the first place. Barbra decided to take the night off, but attended the show and brought as his date a man whom I'd been with first. When he informed Barbra of the fact, then bragged about my body and techniques as compared to the Great Star's, it irked Babs beyond his ability to maintain his composure and character. He lashed out with a barbed tongue heckling all night long, until I'd had quite enough and started lashing back. Evidently, my tongue can be as sharp as his, for he was suitably shocked that anyone, especially a much younger performer, would have the audacity to speak to him in such a way. The Diva was down and dirty and so, he quickly realized, was the Ingenue.
"You were pretty fucked up that night," Rose recalled. "But the only times that tired old tramp ever quits drinking is when she runs out of money and then that doesn't even stop her. She empties the cans of soda pop her father buys for her into a pitcher, then returns the cans for deposit, so she can buy a pint of cheap vodka!"
I was shocked, "No! Really?"
"Oh, grow up!" Rose snapped with disgust. "Why do you think she always serves Coca Cola out of Tupperware?"
"Wow! That never occurred to me! Barbra's really rich, though, isn't she?"
I was sure those stories I'd heard were true. How else could could he possibly live without any visible means of support? Babs is simply not the sort of person to hold down a job. One time, he had four jobs in seven days. When I asked him why he responded as if it were the most ludicrous question he'd ever heard, "I'm simply not going to settle for a position that I'm not satisfied with!" And Barbra Strysand is not the big-time drug-dealer type.
Rose continued, "Yes, that's true, but she gets it through a monthly allowance from her father, Oral Archer, who doesn't appreciate the fact that his son is a female impersonator, no matter how famous."
I giggled, "Barbra's father's name is Oral?"
"Yes, but never mention it! She's sensitive about it!"
I giggled again, "Why does she get the money in an allowance?"
"Christ on a crutch! You're so fucking dumb! The way old Barbra drinks, she would've drank the whole thing up by now!"
"What whole thing?"
I heard deep rattling breathing on the other end of the line and could picture Rose struggling to maintain his patience with me. I was really very sorry but he had me totally confused with all these startling revelations concerning the famous drag queen. "When Barbra's mother, Agatha Crabtree-Archer, was assassinated, they got a huge settlement. Millions."
This was a shocker of soap opera proportions and I asked incredulously, "Assassinated? Who the hell was she? And who got the huge settlement?"
"Babs and her father!"
"Yes! Now pay attention! Oral has total control of the fortune and gives Barbra a monthly allowance, even though the better part of the settlement was actually left to Barbra."
"Wow!" I was astonished.
"Besides which, the father is rumored to be at least a millionaire in his own right because of his interest in electronics."
"Stop saying that! Now, as for Agatha, she was some big-shot investment banker who went to Brazil in order to check out rumors of shady land dealings and was assassinated by a bomb planted in her hotel suite. I remember it. Made quite a few international headlines. Big news."
"How do you know so much about Babs?" I asked, genuinely interested in the subject.
Rose laughed, "Listen, Sweetcheeks, I've known that tired old bitch since dinosaurs wore diapers! I'll never forget the first time I ever saw Barbra perform! Granted, she is a lot older than me, but I'd been performing since the tender age of fourteen as Heavenly Heather and already had four years of stage experience under my bra when I first met Babs. Oh, how green the Great Star was back then! Not at all the cold, hardened, calloused bitch we know and love today."
"Speak for yourself!"
Ignoring my remark and with a slight note of sadness (or possibly regret?) in his voice, Rose concluded, "But she went on to become Detroit's most famous drag queen while I, because of, uh, personal reasons, retired from public life until you dragged my fucking fat ass out to do shows at Gayz R Us."
I decided it was best to skate around the Personal Reasons issue, so I asked, "How did you ever do shows when you were only fourteen years old?"
"I had a gay uncle who would pick me up at my house where I'd crawl out my third story bedroom window and shimmy down a tree. He'd take me to the bar, be my personal body guard while I was there, then bring me back home after the show." Rose laughed, "Think of that!"
"Wow! Did Babs always impersonate Barbra Streisand?"
The big redhead laughed again, "Hell, no! She started out as Society Susan, but once she started impersonating the Great Star and became Barbra Strysand, the audience wouldn't let her do anybody else. One time, she did Cher and was damned good, too, but the foolish crowd didn't realize what versatile talent they were witnessing and began hollering, 'Why's Babs trying to do Cher?' and Barbra was humiliated. I'm sure that was the last time she ever attempted anyone different, other than Halloween, of course."
"Gee, that sounds sorta sad. She was trapped by her own creation."
"So why did she insist I do Marilyn Monroe?"
"Consistency in your career and the fact she thinks you're perfect for it. You already kinda acted like Marilyn Monroe before you ever started impersonating her."
Perfect for it! How I came to impersonate the great sex goddess Marilyn Monroe was another strange step in the metamorphosis of Benny Drake into the performer known as Ginger McRae. As I have mentioned, from the beginning, I was always billed as Ginger, but Rose was right, I'd done the music of Sylvia, Charlene, Lena Zavaroni (whatever happened to Lena?), Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day, Dolly Parton, Terri Gibbs, Shelley Fabres, Leslie Gore, Patsy Cline, Julie Andrews, Leslie Uggums, Whitney Houston, Connie Francis, Melissa Manchester, and Diana Ross, among others, and there was never any consistency in performances, hair, makeup, and so on, until one night when I was visiting Barbra Strysand.
His third floor apartment is modest in size, but exquisitely decorated. A firm believer in reincarnation to the point of fanaticism and claiming to have been the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti in a previous Life, the apartment is, therefore, decorated with tasteful genuine ancient Egyptian artifacts, a few Oriental treasures, and Barbra Streisand everywhere! Autographed photographs, framed magazine covers, and pencil renderings by Stuart, himself, abound throughout the flat, dozens being in the foyer alone, which the host always refers to as the Hall of Flame. All tied together with the exotic and dramatic color scheme of peach (not coral!) and black, with gleaming brass accents.
"Oy vey! Those dirty bastards, Gin!" Babs lamented. "That letter on the table is to inform me that they're shutting off the cable! Pigfuckers!"
"Why are they shutting it off, Babs?"
"Don't call me, 'Babs'! My name is Barbra! That's B-A-R-B-R-A, thank you!"
"But I always call you 'Babs', Babs."
"And you're the only person who gets by with it and don't you evah forget that!"
"Gee, thanks, but you still never said why they're turning off your cable."
"Oh, that. I got cable turned on for no money. They threatened to shut off my cable and I paid no attention. They've left it on for three months and now they're billing me. I said forget it! You should've turned it off when you said you were going to. So I didn't pay the bill. Isn't there supposed to be a Grace Period or some bitch like that? Legally, I mean?"
"Well, I suppose so, but how long has it been since you paid the bill?"
"Bill? Paid? Why, nevah, Dahlink!"
I was flabbergasted by his honest innocence, like he didn't have a clue. "There are worse things in Life than having your cable shut off."
Barbra brightened, "I did just get a new membership at the video store!"
I briefly felt sorry for the video store before saying, "See? Things are looking better already!"
"I suppose so. You know, Dahlink," Babs began, peering at me over the top of his semicircular reading glasses which perched precariously on his prominent proboscis, "Tom said I have a good eye."
Shutting one gray eye and then the other, my host asked, "Which one do you think it is?"
I laughed, "You're too much!"
"Most men think I'm just enough! Come on," the diva ordered, stood up quickly and swept into the white kitchen, where older, but classic appliances glistened beautifully as if freshly polished which, in fact, they probably were. I followed quickly behind like a Springer Spaniel puppy. I watched quietly as he flung open the snow-white cupboard and grabbed two antique crystal stemmed glasses. Closing the cupboard door, he proceeded across the wide entrance hall with its glistening black enameled floor to his boudoir. I followed. He stopped in front of a simply styled, yet elegant black lacquered cabinet that had various old Egyptian artifacts on it. Most of the ancient Egyptian things Barbra has are authentic, having been given to him by some long-ago lover, rumored to be a member of the Rockefeller family. He picked up a pair of brass lotus flower tongs and, lifting the crown off a large bust of King Tutankhamun, extricated three ice cubes for each of the glasses. Replacing the crown, he next grabbed a tall, slender ebony cat from which he unceremoniously removed the head and laid it on the cabinet. Fascinated, I watched as Babs reached above the cabinet and, grasping a framed painted scroll of Osiris welcoming some long-forgotten pharaoh to the Underworld, flung it open to reveal a medicine cabinet-like device filled with shot glasses and other bartending paraphernalia. He grabbed a shot glass and filled it to the rim with the clear contents of the cat decanter, then emptied it into one of the stemmed glasses. He patiently repeated the process with the other one, then closed the scroll cabinet.
"Same as mine, Ginger?" Barbra asked over his shoulder.
"Sure!" I responded brightly, believing firmly in the old adage, When In Rome. He set down the shot glass, carefully examined the contents of the antique ones and splashed a bit more into each one from the decanter. He replaced the cat's head.
"Here," Babs said, shoving one of the goblets into my hand. He grabbed the shot glass and his drink and we returned to the brilliantly white kitchen. The pure alcohol in the glass accosted my nostrils and made my eyes watery as I quickly followed my host. Barbra carefully set the shot glass down into the huge old white enamel kitchen sink and moved silently to the Leonard refrigerator where he got out several bottles of pills and a clear plastic pitcher of brown liquid. He filled the stemmed glasses with the liquid and took one pill out of each bottle. Big, small, round oval, octagonal, and every color of the rainbow. He replaced everything in the Leonard, put all the pills in his left hand and clutched his drink in his right. "I forgot to take my vitamins today," Barbra responded to my quizzical stare, then downed the medicine with a big gulp of the drink.
Just then, the telephone rang. Babs ordered, "Come on," and swept into the living room, black satin lounging pajamas fluttering, to answer it. I obediently followed. "Archer residence. Can I help you?"
There was silence while the caller spoke.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Mister Archer isn't in."
"This is Mister Archer's houseboy, Ramone. Could I take a message?"
"Very well, then! Have a splendid evening! Good night!" Barbra calmly replaced the golden receiver in it's cradle of the antique-style phone on top of the black and brass end table and turned to me, "Pigfuckers, Gin!"
"Why did you lie, Babs?" I asked innocently.
"I was sort of avoiding certain facets of Life. Precautions, you know, Dahlink."
"Bill collectors or ex-lovers?"
"Really, Ginger! You can be so rude sometimes."
"Not rude, just realistic. So which was it?"
"Collectors! Pigfuckers! Why don't they take the hint I don't have any fuckink money?"
"I'm financially embarrassed."
"Bullshit! You're just Jewish!"
"Really, Dahlink! Oy vey! The monetary mix-ups I've had to endure!"
"Write another bad check?"
"You're so crass!"
"Does your father know?"
"I have to make the checks good."
"Checks? More than one? Babs, the cops are gonna take you away one of these times when they come to tea. How did you run out of money?"
"You know perfectly well that I'm not good with finances and really! I still had checks left!"
"Babs!" I laughed. "Gay men should never have checking accounts! It isn't natural! I've only known a couple of gay men who were successful with a checking account and the rest, including myself, eventually wound up in jail!"
A couple of hours later, as we lounged on Barbra Strysand's sumptuous black couch, a strange glimmer came into his granite-gray eyes which I at first dismissed to potato juice but, as always, Babs never ceases to amaze me. From his daze, he spoke slowly and evenly, "You could do it, Ginger."
"I could do what?" I replied, immediately suspicious, given Barbra's track record and seesaw moods. Was this to be one of his drunken radical plots to blow up Gayz R Us because of some slight he'd received from Oswald Beamer, the owner? Or something worse? I involuntarily shuddered at the thought of the possibilities.
"You could really do it," Babs repeated, seeming to sober somewhat with whatever scheme he was devising.
"Okay, what?" I gave up.
For the first time, my host looked directly at me. His grayish-blue eyes were almost fanatical, but his words were soft and serene, "For some time now, Dahlink Ginger, I've been watchink you. Studyink you and thinkink."
I was rather shocked and more than just a little creeped out, but managed to maintain my composure as I asked, "Why?"
"It's time for you to make a change in your act," the diva declared, smiling.
I laughed nervously, "Are you suggesting Country?"
"Don't be vulgar!" Barbra snapped, rising unsteadily from the couch and walking over to his vast collection of old records. "I have somethink I want you to hear." With that, he removed the vinyl disc from the cover that I couldn't see and placed it on the turntable of the ancient hi-fi. A familiar voice filled the room and upon recognition, my mouth dropped open. Noticing this, Barbra spoke with disgust, "Shut your mouth! I'm your Sistah, not a date!" I listened in silence until the first side of the album was done, when my host asked, "Wot do you think, Dahlink?"
"I think I didn't know Marilyn Monroe ever cut a record."
"Well, she did, I've got them, and her music is goink to revive your career!"
"My 'career'? Babs, are you crazy? I don't have a career! And Marilyn Monroe was the absolute epitome of sex! She was voluptuous!"
"Simply a matter of makeup and attitude, Dahlink!" Barbra spoke brightly. "A little more paddink in certain areas--say, you wouldn't consider plumpink up a bit, would you?" Barbra smiled.
"Certainly not!" I snapped back.
"Oy vey! More's the pity! I was afraid of that! Say La Vee! Paddink it will have to be!"
"I think you're nuts! I'm nothing like Marilyn Monroe!"
"Oy vey! You're more like her than you even suspect!"
"How?" I demanded.
"Othah than the eyes and hair color?"
"People are drawn to you like a moth to a flame, as though you were a helpless child and they all want to help you."
"Nonsense! I think you've finally pickled your brain with all that vodka!"
"That's very unprofessional! Do you want me to help you to become the best Marilyn Monroe evah (othah than the genuine article, of course!) or not?"
"Well, actually, no..."
"Fine! Now, here's where we'll start..."
"I'll bet any amount you put vodka in your oatmeal!"
"Oatmeal?" Barbra screeched with obvious disgust. "I'm very pleased to say, Dahlink, that I've never eaten oatmeal!"
"You're joking!" I said, surprised.
"That is quite an idea, though, Gin. You wouldn't even taste the vodka! I never thought of that! Congrats!"
"But oatmeal looks like poodle vomit!"
"Yuck! Why poodle vomit?"
"That's the only breed of canine my family has!"
"Besides, I think that's how Brittany probably has her oatmeal. I certainly wouldn't want to put myself down at her level for any reason! Oh, and with a little milk, of course."
The idea of vodka and milk started my stomach churning, so I decided it was time to change the subject, "I still think you're crazy about me doing Marilyn Monroe!"
"Oh, do you? Ask Rose then! We'll call her right now!"
I felt compelled to interrupt, "It's three in the morning! Rose will drive here and kill you!"
Completely ignoring me, Barbra continued, "Rose thinks the same way I do! With just a little trainink..."
"Training? All the training in the world cannot make an audience believe that I'm Marilyn Monroe!"
"Stop beink silly! Nobody will evah think that you're the real Marilyn Monroe, because everyone, with the possible exception of you, knows that she's dead! Damn those Kennedys, anyway!"
After approximately an hour of drunken, acidic cursing about the closest thing the United States has ever had to a royal family excluding, of course, the Hawaiian monarchy, Barbra set to work transforming me into Marilyn Monroe. Or at least a pretty good facsimile which, in the time since that memorable night has been polished to a fine luster like the Petoskey stone pipe I smoke from. We spent the rest of that intoxicating evening watching Marilyn Monroe movies and documentaries; listening to the three records over and over until I thought surely they must wear out; applying makeup, then removing it and reapplying it differently, so that I had a rosy red face by the time I left; and poring over every photograph Babs had of Marilyn Monroe to decide which of the sex goddess's gowns and costumes would best suit my new image and the New Me.
"You had bettah let me deal with Rose concernink your new costumes, Dahlink," Barbra advised. "She can be somewhat difficult at times, you know." All I could think of to stifle a laugh was it was a good thing Rose didn't hear Babs.
The exhausting, drunken evening finally drew to a close in the wee hours of the morning when my host mixed his eleventh cocktail, daintily took a sip of it, lit a Kool, and collapsed on the couch, out colder than a dead mackerel. After extracting the burning cigarette from his talon-like fingers and crushing it out in the gleaming brass King Tut ashtray, I had staggered home drunkenly contemplating this newest phase in my Life. And I've been impersonating Marilyn Monroe ever since!
"But I'm not fat enough to be Marilyn!" I said to Rose over the phone.
"Watch it, Little Bitch!"
Realizing a change in conversation would be prudent at this time, I asked, "Were drag shows more fun in the Old Days?"
"Fuck no! Gay bars used to be tacky, tiny holes in the wall that would spring up one week and disappear as if they'd never even existed the next. Opened and closed like clams! They'd have folding tables and chairs and, if you were lucky, chicken wire between you and the audience."
"Shit on a stick!" Rose huffed and puffed and sounded impatient, but I knew that he liked nothing better than reminiscing about the good Old Days. "'Cause they'd throw shit at you, ya Dumb Bitch! If they didn't like you, they'd throw beer bottles, drinks, and whatever else they could get ahold of. Some wise-asses even came prepared with tomatoes and eggs!"
"Wow! I never knew any of that!"
"There's a lot we don't know about each other! Say, that gives me an idea for our adventure!"
"Wait! I haven't read the letters to you, yet! I'm not at all sure I want to travel all the way to Saginaw with Babs."
Rose ignored my apprehension, "There's three of them, didn't you say?"
"Hmmm. That's unusual. Okay, go ahead and read them. I've got my coffee."
"Okeetokee! The first one is dated February nineteenth. Dear Benny and Ginger ('and Ginger' in parentheses). This letter may be scattered (so's her brain!) because there is so much I want to say.
"First of all, from what I'm (small 'I'; comma instead of apostrophe) hearing, I have been misquoted and downright lied about. Your hurt me deeply the night (spelled N-I-T-E) of the show. Luckily (spelled L-U-C-K-Y-L-Y), I was sober, otherwise you would've (quotation marks instead of apostrophe) had a crutch (spelled C-R-U-T-H) upside your stoned head. And I (small 'i') have followed your request. Many times on many days have I wanted to call you. Simply to sit and gab like we used to. But I can't. Why? Because your friendship (spelled F-I-E-N-D-S-H-I-P) is too (spelled T-O) risky. My life is more important to me than yours, I guess. Benny, you are a wonderful, kind-hearted, kooky guy. And I cherish (spelled C-H-E-R-R-I-S-H) your friendship. But in the present state. I won't be a party--pardon the pun."
"See, Miss Worry Wart? Obviously intoxicated and most certainly in dangerously close to lethal doses of extremely cheap vodka."
"Her spelling and punctuation are simply atrocious!"
"Okay, Miss Editor, continue."
"All right. I'm going to tell you a few things you won't like and I am sorry. Apparently (spelled A-P-P-E-A-R-A-N-T-L-Y), your other friends (in quotation marks and spelled F-I-E-N-D-S) won't. You have become the town joke. That was the hardest thing I've ever had to say. These things are in no (capitalized) means meant to hurt, as I know they will. Your drinking and afterglowing have gotten way out of control! You've got (capitalized) to stop (capitalized) those disgusting (spelled D-E-S-Q-U-E-S-T-I-N-G) afterscums (cute, huh?)! Why don't you just open a whorehouse (she managed to spell that word correctly!)? When you drink, you become a bigger bitch than I was (was?). And believe me, it's not pretty (capitalized). When you turn viciously on your friends, isn't that some sort of cry for help? You have an acid tongue. Maybe (end of first page). Oops! I ran out of paper. Where was I? Maybe that was cute and clever at one time. Not any more! Are you aware that you're known as The Drunken Old Drag Queen of Queen City? You say you want a husband, but are you presenting a very attractive package (like she is!)? Do you really want to take over where I left off? I think not. Please, Benny, not for me, but for yourself. You self-esteem sucks. I'm in therapy. Julie Zalor C.F.C.S. She's helped Clyde, me, and she can be of great help to you. Shit, it's only five bucks an hour! There's no excuse! Ask for God's help (she knows perfectly well that I'm Wiccan!), it works, believe me. Be the beautiful person you are! Call me when you're better. Love and luck."
"You certainly..." Rose was suddenly interrupted by one of his coughing spells, which lasted several minutes and I worried as I waited patiently.
As he regained his breath, I asked, "Rose! Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"Your cough sounds horrible!"
"I wasn't coughing. My lungs were thanking me for another cigarette."
"Funny, Rose, really funny."
"Back to the letters! You certainly don't think she was sober, do you? Listen to it, Ginger!"
"Well...I did show it to Roger Knight and he laughed, which didn't make me very happy until he explained that all the nasty things Babs said about me are actually what people say about her."
"That's probably true."
"I don't understand why she's so rotten to me!" I wailed.
"Who knows? What's the second letter say?"
"Oh, it's much nastier than the first one! Although the spelling is considerably better, in this one she's mad at me because it took too long to get her some pot that she absolutely begged me to get for her. You know how I hate doing that sort of thing, Sissy! It's so dangerous in Queen City!"
"Yes, yes, get on with it! The suspense is killing me!"
"Well...the second one is dated March third. Dear Ben. Seeing as how I can't trust any of your friends (quotation marks) to relay this with proper meaning, I have chosen to take time out of my busy schedule to write.
"Don't get me wrong, I think you are a caring, loving, sweet person. Unfortunately (she left out the 'e'), the company you keep is disgusting. They don't give a damn about you. As long (no space between those two words) as you have booze and dope they'll be your undying (totally fucked that word up!) friends forever. Your house looks like the inside of a dumpster (slash) hamper. As far as I know, you are the only (capitalized) one who works in that brothel and now you're out of work! Not counting D.J., of course (spelled C-O-A-R-S-E).
"The Sunday I cam over to pick up my long overdue weed, I had to sit for an hour listening to Betsy Rivers, Miss Pig Woman expound of how wonderful and beautiful it is (I think she's referring to Pine House). He is obnoxious. Maybe I should say she instead of he.
"Considering (left out the 'r') it had been three weeks since I gave you sixty-five dollars cash (capitalized) to get a bag of weed from your source and hadn't even received it. I found it extremely strange that you had the remains of a bag on your kitchen table. Not only was there no weed but come to find out, you had loaned my (underlined) copy of Valley of the Dolls to a third party! Where do you get the gall (spelled G-A-U-L)?
"Finally, when you did deliver my weed,it was not (capitalized) a full bag! Even more interesting, after I had rolled the first doobie, you pulled out your (quotation marks) bag and filled your traveling pipe. My (underlined) bag was a flip-top baggie, whereas yours (capitalized) was a fresh (underlined) zip-lock bag. You must not only think that I am stupid, but blind (sloppily corrected with white typing correction fluid)!
"I was laboring (spelled with a 'u') under the impression that you were my friend, I wasn't aware that friends steal from friends. At least not the real (underlined) friends that I have. No wonder Fred thought it was one of your crowd that egged his house last Halloween. You see, if I hadn't been associating (really fucked that word up!) with the likes of you, I wouldn't even be suspect.
"As you know, I'm not drinking any more..."
"Not drinking any less either..." Rose interjected.
"...And I don't want anything to come," I continued, "Between me and my sobriety (amazingly, she spelled that word correctly!). The stakes are too (spelled T-O) high. What this means is, I don't want you, Betsy, Denyse, Brittany, Stella, or any of the lowlifes you seem so comfortable with, to come to my home, call me on the phone, cross my path, or so much as breathe in my direction. Have you ever thought of attending an Alcoholics Anonymous (not capitalized) meeting (three question marks)? I think you would be better off. Simply review your past history. Not too (spelled T-O) pretty, is it?
"Mama Etha is a sweetheart. I sincerely wish my father was more like her. But it's a pity she didn't teach her princess anything about ethics, social grace, politics, personal hygiene (spelled H-Y-G-E-N-E), housekeeping, etcetera.
"I am very sorry it has to be like this, because I really did (underlined) care for you. It's like me, people do see the good that's in you, but because of lying and stealing, they want nothing to do with you. Except that is for the guttersnipes you seem to believe are your best buddies.
"You do realize that I came very close to being evicted because of those bitch swine (Stella and Kari), carrying (spelled C-A-R-R-I-N-G) on so over a couple of pictures of naked men. How dare you bring women to my home! You know damned well the only (capitalized) woman welcome in my flat is Etha! Probably the closest those two had been to a nude man in a long time. Pity! If it weren't (spelled W-U-R-N-T) for the fact that my landlord likes me and my good breeding, I'd be living on the street! Would that bother you? I think not! What would I do with my art collection? What would I do with my furniture? Do you think of these things when you bring bitches to my home? Of course not! What about my drawings? Speaking of drawings, I was offered three hundred dollars for that Marilyn Monroe. But no, it had only one home, with my Sister, Ginger. And where is it now? Still rolled up on a shelf in her tacky mirrored closet! You can return it any time! Before I call the police. Also you owe me thirty-three-fifty for the weed you stole. To repeat a saying: It's been fun and it's been real, but not real fun. I refuse to be dragged down! Your former friend (spelled F-I-E-N-D) and Sister, Stuart."
"I still think she was fucked up!"
"She sounds pretty sincere, even if everything's twisted. Well, this one was too much for me when she mentioned Mom, so I wrote back to her."
"You two girls are just too much! Read yours, I know you kept a copy."
"Okeetokee! Dear Old Babs. Who in the hell do you think you are? Who I associate with and what I do is absolutely no concern of yours! It will remain that way because I've shown your hate letters to everyone so they could all see what the real Barbra Strysand is like and none of them want anything to do with you, anyway. Speaking of letters, it's quite obvious that the good breeding you refer to on occasion didn't encompass proper letter writing or even something as basic as spelling. Also, you didn't have to inform me that you've quit drinking again--I still have the hate letter you sent me the last time you went on the wagon. Why you always turn your hatred, frustration, and self-disgust toward me every time you stop drinking, I have not quite figured out, but this time, I'm merely considering the source: a neurotic alcoholic. I've always adored you, Babs, and held you in the highest esteem, but it's getting more and more difficult to do so, considering your erratic behavior.
"I'm not going to bother defending my friends or their actions--at least I have friends who care about me, which sadly, you obviously don't. Is that the reason for all the hostility? Jealousy? If so, you're more pathetic than I thought.
"As far as your Fudge is concerned, I'm very sorry, but acquiring such things is not like shopping at Hudson's, where they have everything you might want in stock. This is Queen City! What did you expect? We're up North! If you can remember correctly, every single time I saw you during the three weeks, I asked you if you wanted me to return your money and each time you told me the same thing: You trust me and you'd wait. Evidently, you don't trust me as much as you may have thought. The partial bag you saw on the table was given to me and was nowhere near the amount you wanted, anyway. In fact, I gave you some in a pipe when you came over--it's certainly not my fault that you were already so loaded, you spilled it. When I finally did deliver your bag--having to negotiate your three flights of stairs on crutches is not the easiest thing to do, you must realize--the reason I pulled out my bag was so you couldn't tell everyone that I had come to your home and smoked all of yours. Still, you manage to twist everything around--as alcoholics tend to do--and I still come across looking like the bad guy. The bag you got was exactly the amount you requested--I watched the person weigh it myself. I have never called you stupid Babs, but Fudge comes in whatever bags the person has available. Furthermore, you know perfectly well in your heart that I don't lie, cheat, or steal--from my friends or anyone else!
"I am truly sorry that I loaned your movie to a "third party". They were supposed to have returned it the following night. I didn't think you would mind so much considering that it was somebody you think of as having good breeding like Elmer Wade Bissell that I had loaned it to.
"According to your own story, Fred thought that it was one of your crowd that egged his house, of which I was included at the time. The very idea of me egging his home is ludicrous! I have no bad feelings against Fred, I don't drive, and I don't know where he lives! So quit trying to pit Fred against me. You've done it for years and I, for one, am sick and tired of it and won't tolerate it anymore.
"As for Alcoholics Anonymous, you should've gone to it thirty years ago when there was still some hope for your poor liver. And as for "past histories"? Ha! I won't even touch that one! You somehow manage to be amusing even when you're full of hatred!
"Evicted, Babs? I'm quite sure that your father's money--not necessarily breeding--would've taken care of any problems like that.
"The drawing you did of me as Marilyn Monroe--which, if you are able to remember, you gave me for my last twenty-first birthday on January sixth, so go ahead and call the police! I still love it as much as ever, even after this, your second hate letter to me. As I've told you over and over, drunk and sober, that is exactly why it's still rolled up. When I'm able, I intend to get the best and most beautiful frame I can afford for it, instead of stapling it to the wall like some cheap poster, as you suggested.
"In conclusion, Babs, I want to point out a few things you may have forgotten. Throughout the years that I've known you, I have shoved you onto the stage when you were too drunk to change your gown or even walk (yet performed so perfectly that no one in the audience had a clue as to your condition), been slapped by you (after which, you tried to jump out of D.J.'s car and fell in front of your apartment building, scraping your knee and then sat there in the street waving at passersby like some deranged beauty queen! That's what happened to your knee, you Drunken Mess, not from anyone beating you up like you've been telling people) and have just generally put up with your rotten moods and drunken temper tantrums. Oh, no, Babs, you don't need to tell me to stay away from you. I'll do so gladly! To quote one of your songs, 'Enough Is Enough'!"
"Whew! You read her like a cheap paperback novel! It was about time somebody did. She gets out of control, sometimes. You said there's a third letter?"
"Yeah, it came today."
"Let's hear it, then I'll tell you what I think."
"All right. Hey! I just thought of something! Let me ask before I forget!"
"Did you finish setting my wig?"
"Yes, and let me tell you something, Young Lady! That rug was filthy! What'd you do, slop hogs with it on?"
"They just get that way."
"Oh, Rose, I must be the World's Worst Drag Queen!" I wailed. "I don't know how to do hair, I only know how to do my makeup, I don't know how to sew, and I don't sing or dance. How the hell did I ever become so well-known? Why does the audience even like me?"
"Personality, Dear Sister. That and your looks."
"Plus, you're a tramp," this was spoken softer, as if under his breath.
"And you drink."
"All right! Fuck! More because of your personality and looks!"
"You didn't mention talent," I pointed out coldly.
"With your looks, who needs it?"
"I think I look just like me with makeup on when I'm in drag."
"Other people don't see you. They see Marilyn Monroe. And for a few minutes, they're transported back to a simpler time."
"The third letter?"
"Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. Here goes. Gin-Gin. My letter was by no means meant to be a hate (quotation marks) letter. It was merely a collection of my observations and opinions. With the exception of the Fudge issue, naturally (spelled N-A-T-U-R-E-L-L-Y).
"As usual, you misconstrued (Can you believe she spelled that word correctly?) most of it and what you didn't, you decided (spelled D-E-C-I-E-D-E-D) to fabricate. What was that shit about you shoving me onstage? I have been doing shows for the past thirty years, quite successfully, I might add. To the best of my memory, without any help from you! In Detroit, if you seem to forget, all of you were there on my good name and reputation. The last time, I was told never (underlined) to bring you back.
Yes, it's true. Who you associate with is none of my business. I'm sure you've heard the expression, 'You're judged by the company you keep '. Try this, tell the household that no booze or dope is allowed in the house and not to come home intoxicated or stoned. See how long those fucking parasites hang around knowing they don't have a flophouse to come to.
"As far as being jealous of you, well, that gave me a good thirty-minute laugh! Of what am I jealous? Your elite circle of friends, your fabulous home, your expensive car, your gorgeous (spelled G-E-O-R-G-O-U-S) lover, your abounding talent, your beautiful face, your long silken hair, your sumptuous wardrobe? I think not (capitalized)! My life isn't perfect, but it beats yours by a country mile!
"Knowing you as I do, I knew you'd show the letters to all mentioned, and then some. In fact, I intended you to.
"According to Webster's Dictionary (spelled D-I-C-K-T-I-O-N-E-R-Y), Breeding: Knowledge of, or training in, the ceremonies and polite observations of society. It is not something you buy or having money brings. It is something you must acquire. I am sure you are not aware that for most of my parents' lives, they and their families, me being one of them, were listed in Who's Who. Were your parents? Do you even have parents? Etha is too sweet to really (capitalized) be your mother. You must be adopted. My father, not that it's any of your business, is the executor of my mother's trust. Being the smart man he is, he's hardly going to hand the money over to a drunk. I don't know what you think or what you think you know, but what you hear from others is pure fantasy. I want for nothing. All I want is more of it.
"Your letter did nothing but evoke pity. Apparently, you just don't know any better. Life according to Miss Ginger McRae, as seen through foggy glasses. A fantasy world. Not that you're the least (underlined) judgmental, none of us are, but did you ever think that what you see isn't always as it appears? Simply something to ponder.
"I regret that it has to end this way, under that pathetic (my word for her!) shell is that loving and caring person I referred to earlier. When you get a life, I sincerely hope it's a good one! I will continue to pray for you. This will be the last correspondence you will ever get from me."
"And you still think she was sober when she wrote all that shit? If so, I think she's right about one thing."
"If you think for one minute that tired old queen has stopped drinking, you do live in a fantasy world! My bet is, she doesn't even remember writing, much less sending those letters to you."
"Why do you say that, Rose?"
"Think about it! I had a long conversation with her today and she never mentioned any of this. If anything, she's probably confused by the letter you sent her because she has little or no recollection of the ones she sent to you."
"How could she forget?"
"Jesus H. Christ!" Rose barked. "Sometimes I think all that hair bleach has affected your brain! All the years I've known Barbra, she has always drank just like she does now and after awhile, it catches up with a person. The thought processes become all fucked up and she doesn't always remember what she's done or said."
"You really think that's it?"
"Fuck yes! I'd bet my last settlement on it!"
"I'm still not sure if I want to make the trip with her. What if she flies off the handle and starts giving me shit?"
"Don't worry, I'll be there, but I really can't blame your scepticism."
"Well..." I hesitated, then relented, "All right, I'll go, but if that bitch starts anything with me, she'll be the one with a crutch upside her bald head!"
"Good girl! That's the spirit! That's more like it! I'll pick you up at noon!"
I sighed as I set down the red high heeled phone. "Those bitches are so exasperating! Forcing me to go out in my condition! Damn it!" Frustrated, I flung my empty Marilyn Monroe coffee mug across the Art Deco livingroom with rage, only to have it bounce defiantly on the plush sculpted charcoal gray carpet.
"Bitch!" I sat back, trying to calm myself and reached for the stone pipe, which I refilled from the plastic baggie in my denim bag. I lit the pipe and took a long, deep hit, closed my eyes and contemplated the impending excursion. I hoped Babs wouldn't get too drunk and be an arrogant, catty bitch. It could make the trip unbearable.
Suddenly, my eyes snapped open! Holy shit! It occurred to me that I had a lot to do before Rose showed up at noon! And he's one of those people who's always on time! Packing, shower (that had become an hour-long ordeal since the accident, but once again, D.J. had come to the rescue when he came up with the idea of using a metal folding chair in the shower with a garbage bag over the cast), and...by the gods! I was practically out of cigarettes! I picked up the crimson pump phone again. "Goddamn call to arms! Worse than a three-day notice to do a show!" I grumbled as I dialed the telephone.
It was answered almost immediately, "Queen City Tobacco."
"Hi! This is Ginger!"
"Remember the other night how you made that life-long vow to never let me run out of those delightful Gauloise blend cigarettes? Well, I've almost smoked all of the ones you brought over to the afterglow Saturday night and I just don't know if I could live without that marvelous hint of sage you put in them." I was laying it on pretty thick, but I love those cigarettes!
"Ah, Ginger!" I love a man with an accent! Or without one, for that matter. "How I've dreamt of hearing your voice, seeing you again! Gazing into your beautiful sparkling sapphire blue eyes and caressing your slender, seductive body."
"I've fallen in love with your mouth! How I love running my fingers through your golden silky hair while you..."
"Uh, well, yes," I stammered, feeling embarrassed. Maurice always has that effect on me! "I mean about the cigarettes, Dear."
"Oh, please forgive my endless ramblings about your many perfections! The cigarettes! My own Special Blend, you know! The tobacco is exclusively French and the only way I can import it in bulk is because my family still lives in France and they send it to me."
"Yes, yes, Maurice," I said, perhaps too impatiently, but my amour didn't seem to notice and continued.
"Then I add a mere hint of sage here in the shop with my own loving hands and voila!"
"Oh, I know all about your hands," I assured him, recalling several steamy moonlit trysts.
"But I love you, Ginger! I'll love you forever!"
"Yes, Dear, I know you love me, but forever is a long time and I'm rather rushed. Can't we discuss it later?" The words burst out of my mouth in a torrent before he could interrupt again.
"Oh, my Love! Fly away with me this afternoon to Hawaii and we'll be married!"
"Married? I don't have time to marry you right..." I was interrupted by matrimony-minded Maurice.
"Your deformity in no way hinders my love or lust for you!"
My patience snapped, "It's not a deformity, it's a broken ankle!"
"And no excuse not to marry me! I wouldn't be embarrassed by your crutches and neither should you, my Love!"
"I will not go down the aisle on crutches! My train would get tangled! Oh, my! What am I saying? Now, look..." Maurice interrupted again.
"What is it, then, my precious little Bon Bon? Am I not a prominent business owner, an outstanding pillar in the community, dark, handsome, wealthy, generous, and extremely well-endowed?"
"I think you forgot humble, Maurice."
"Oh, please forgive me, my Living Goddess! And your answer?"
"Well...Yes, you are all those things, and then some, but I simply don't love you. Let's just keep it fun!"
"You could..." It was my turn to interrupt.
"Please, Dear, listen! Rose is coming over to whisk me away on a shopping trip to Saginaw with Barbra..."
"That has-been is a vile, drunken bitch!"
"Yes, she is an evil, nasty, vile, drunken bitch, but she's still my Sister and we're going on this shopping trip..."
"Let me know if she's rude to you and I'll take care of her!"
"Yes, I'll let you know, Dear. Now, Maurice, please listen! I'm almost out of smokes, so I was wondering..."
"Oh, my Darling Ginger! Why didn't you say so? Your happiness is my only concern in Life! I'll be right over and I promise you'll be just as breathless as you were after your Afterglow." Maurice's elevated testosterone levels caused him to practically growl in his thick French accent and it was becoming increasingly clear to see that we were not on the same wavelength.
"Oh, no! I mean, uh, I've been trying to tell you! You don't need to bring them over, I'll just ask Rose to stop on our way to Barbra's." I could hear him sigh sadly on the other end of the line, but I continued while I was on a roll, "Thanks so much, Dear! You're so sweet! I'll see you when I get there! Ta Ta!" I tried to sound cheery knowing full well how disappointed Maurice was. I wasn't too pleased myself. I could spend the afternoon with a horny Frenchman in any number of creative positions or I could be miserable in a car on a long road trip with two bickering old drag queens. What a choice! A weaker person might have succumbed to desire and opted for an exciting afternoon with the amorous Maurice, but a promise is a promise and I sighed, too, as I set the red high heel phone down.
As I gazed around my livingroom with admiring eyes, I recalled how I had taken the run-down rental house and transformed it, with lots of help, into my elegant and exotic home, Pine House, the party house of Queen City. All the uninsulated cracked plaster walls which were covered with cheap faux wood paneling had been torn out down to the studs (I always liked that word!) and, after being fully insulated, been replaced by more modern plaster board drywall. One entire wall of the livingroom is totally covered with shelves on which over a thousand books, knickknacks, and my Barbie doll collection reside. It is of a medium charcoal hue while the rest of the walls and ceiling are snow white. To make the already large livingroom appear even bigger, I glued door mirrors on each of the doors exiting the livingroom (that is, my boudoir, the bathroom, and the stairway going up) and trimmed them with decorative molding so they look like more expensive wooden mirrored doors. The furnishings and decorations are pure Art Deco in black, white, gray, and vibrant red accents with lots of chrome and mirrors. Sleek and cool, I think, but Rose maintains that it's cold and unwelcoming. Oh, well! Everyone has their own opinion.
Now to pack and then shower. I grabbed my crutches and, holding them together as I'd been shown in Physical Therapy at the hospital, pulled steadily and rose up from the chair, carefully placing all of my weight on my right foot. Standing upright and gaining my sense of balance, I hobbled to the bedroom and plopped down on the massive queen-size pillowtop mattressed bed. I slowly gazed about the room in a stoned stupor. Granted, the terrible pain didn't completely relinquish itself to the pot, but the illegal substance certainly helped my frame of mind. I was still in major pain, but didn't think about it quite so much.
My bedroom appeared to me more beautiful than ever. My pride and joy. I've worked hard with Mom's and my friends' help and as a result, have the home I've always dreamed of--the Art Deco livingroom; the sleek black and white ceramic-tiled bathroom with scarlet linens; the Fifties kitchen; and this, the most splendorous of all, my Oriental boudoir.
Where I got the idea for covering the walls, I don't really recall, but they turned out well. I purchased several pieces of wood lath and painted them with gloss black enamel, as I did all the trim in the room. Next, I got enough flat white twin/single sheets to cover all the walls in the room, stapling them tautly against the walls and cutting holes for light switches, outlets, windows, and doors. I tacked the painted lath strips over the seams wherever the sheets met, giving the impression of silk screens with the gloss black cove I put along the ceiling. After painting the door a brilliant Chinese red and replacing all the switch and outlet covers with glistening brass ones, the room was complete!
To the left of the black lacquered bed where I sat with leg carefully propped, stands the tall folding Japanese silk screen which serves to shield and camouflage the not-always-so-tidy black lacquered desk that Mom gave me and I painted. Against the wall out from the foot of the huge bed is the dresser, which I take particular pride in. Gotten at a garage sale for a paltry sum, it's six feet long with four large drawers. I refinished it myself and now it sets there, gleaming ebony with the three by five-foot mirror hanging above it in the black Oriental frame I designed and created for it. To the right of the bed is the cedar-lined closet with its tri-fold-mirrored doors that Babs referred to in one of his hate letters as "tacky".
With all modesty, my yard has been called "enchanting" by the Queen City Garden Club in the Queen City Tribune, while in another article at a different time in the same paper, it was that my yard, as small as it is, "is the only thing that could possibly surpass the uniqueness of the house..." I thought that was quite flattering. In one corner of the uneven used brick piazza is a nine-foot circular pond from which the bricks radiate out in circles. I had everybody and their uncles on the lookout for used bricks when I was in the process of constructing the piazza and walkways and would consequently get calls telling where free bricks had been spotted and someone would go get them for me. Or I might wake up some afternoon to a huge pile of bricks in my yard from someone that knew I needed them. It takes a lot of bricks to do what I did! Dear Little Sister Denyse brought bricks to me from Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky when he was a traveling salesman. People would give me certain bricks and then look for them once they were laid. Simple pleasures. A great source of relaxation for me, the pond has cattails, arrowheads, carnivorous pitcher plants, water lilies, various members of the carp family, three turtles, clams, snails, and one monstrous algae eater named Floyd, and is fed and aerated by a menacing concrete gargoyle.
The recycled red brick paths encircle the house in serpentine fashion and when followed around to the front of the house, dissolve into a minuscule version of a forest. When the hole was dug for the pond, I put the dirt in mounds all over the yard, so the paths go up and down little hills and have, little by little, removed all of the lawn turf grass. I'm a firm proponent of eliminating grass and replacing it with ground cover, preferably something good for the soil like clover. White clover never needs mowing, thereby saving money in several different ways and attracts honeybees which are vital to the whole scheme of things! Between the house and the walkways, I've planted rhubarb, which gives an exotic air with it's huge elephant ear-type leaves. And the sour stalks are edible! For privacy, a twelve-foot tall evergreen cedar hedge encompasses the small city half-lot inside a nine-foot high stockade fence. I sincerely think the best way to have good neighbors is to put up the tallest fence you can. Within this perimeter, rising up from the floor of wood chips, cedar bark nuggets, leaves, and pine cones, are practically every wildflower native to Michigan that I successfully transplanted from the Wild (but please don't tell the authorities!). Beneath the graceful branches of the White Pine, Michigan's state tree, and the stark white beauty of the Paper Birches, Cosmos, Queen Anne's Lace, Beebalm, Luneria, Bouncing Betty, Chicory, Milkweed, Columbine, Brown-eyed Susans, Mullein, and Daisies wave gently in the breeze from the Bay, while Lady Slippers, Violets, Strawberries, Dutchman's Breeches, Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, both Red and White Clover, Indian Paint Brush, and Dandelions abound. Every time I'm given any type of bulb plant as a gift, such as Hyacinths, Tulips, Lilies, or whatever, when they're done blossoming, I naturalize them into my yard so it's constantly metamorphosing into an even more beautiful spectacle.
My home is complete. It has taken me a long time, but everything is exactly as I envisioned it when I assumed the mortgage. The only part of Pine House that could be considered ordinary is the upstairs, which I've left conventional. As I sat there admiring my home, I realized that I hadn't been upstairs since the accident.
The Accident. The talk of the town. I looked about the magnificent bedroom again, my eyes coming to rest on a large imported jade statue of a laughing Buddha and I felt like crying. The day before, I'd recieved a telephone call from Oswald Beamer, the owner of Gayz R Us. I had, much against my better judgment, contacted my lawyer to ask his advice since Oswald had repeatedly assured me that he would take care of the doctor's bills, but had yet to follow through. The rent I collected from D.J. wasn't enough to cover the house payment and utilities.
Over the phone, Oswald Beamer had called me every name in the book in addition to making the wildest accusations and out byright lying about me. Oswald said that I was being fraudulent; no other bar would want me; I would never get anything out of the lawsuit because he would draw the case out forever; I had run up a six-hundred dollar tab at Gayz R Us; he would ultimately win because he has more resources than me; he doesn't trust me anymore; I hurt his feelings; he could legally bar me, with the aid of the police, if necessary; it was my fault that I fell on the ice; and all I was trying to do was hurt people.
Various patrons over the years thought that Oswald and I should be an item! How cute and romantic, they cooed! How revolting! Rampant rumors of his glass-top coffee table and the use of it during his disgusting defecation soirees definitely dissuaded any romantic feelings I may have had. Partners! He fucked me over, in one way or another, on every show I ever did there! One time, simply to illustrate what a rat he really is, he got called down to Flint for a funeral the night of a show. He called the bar during the show and, after talking with the bartender (my sexy ex, Gary), told me that because Gary had said the crowd was light (because he never advertised), he was cutting our wages in half. The other Girls could tell Something Was Up, even though I didn't inform them. I immediately demanded free drinks for the night. After some hemming and hawing (and me threatening to walk out halfway through the show and tell the audience why), Oswald finally agreed. Detroit's Own Barbra Strysand promptly ordered a pitcher of Long Island Ice Tea and "a very long straw". At most bars I ever performed at, free drinks for the night was pretty much a standard amenity, but not with Oswald Beamer! As for the wages, I'd never had that done to me before, nor has it ever happened since, but I paid the others what we had agreed upon and I took the cut. As far as I know, they still don't know what happened that night, but I'm pretty sure Barbra and Rose have their suspicions.
Because of that damned accident, I might very well lose my beautiful, beloved Pine House! If only Oswald had put salt on the icy sidewalk in front of the bar like I'd asked instead of laughing, "There's nothing I can do. Salt costs money. It's winter in Northern Michigan! What do you expect?" If only I hadn't drank so much that night. If only...shit! A helluva lot of good it did now to think and wish and wonder. What could've or should've, didn't, and now I was suffering the consequences. Since I couldn't work at Rosegarden Nursing Home with a broken ankle, Oswald had said he would take care of the bills, but he kept procrastinating. I discussed the problem with Mom, Rose, Babs, D.J., and anyone else who would listen and the general consensus was always the same: Sue Oswald Beamer. That was the very last thing I wanted to do. The fact that Gayz R Us is the only gay bar in Queen City and that a court case would surely divide the gay community weighed heavily upon my mind as I prepared for the shopping excursion.
At three o'clock sharp, Rose Elliott's glistening white Chrysler LeBaron pulled up at 69 Pine Street, thoroughly rubbing its whitewalls off against the curb with an unearthly loud, dull sound. The car had been meticulously customized to the owner's specifications with his last settlement so that even the logos next to the opera windows now spelled out LeBaroness in Austrian crystals instead of LeBaron. The royal blue upholstery had been ripped out and replaced with deep violet leather and the blue carpet had been replaced with plush purple. It was outfitted with every luxury imaginable and available in a mid-sized car. In addition to typical options such as air conditioning, electric windows, rear defroster, stereo, and so on, the LeBaroness also boasted such unique accessories as a hidden bar in the back of the driver's seat which, when opened, revealed four highball glasses, a shot glass, and a decanter. The armrest between the two front bucket seats opened to expose a specially designed cooler with a six-pack capacity. All windows were tinted a dark violet and the whole effect was one of a wealthy female impersonator's luxurious good taste.
By the time Rose had pushed the doorbell and the opening bars of Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend began chiming throughout the house, I had maneuvered to the front door and opened it.
"Hi, Sissy!" I smiled brightly as I stood there, long blonde hair still damp and tousled from the shower, cascading down over my pale pink turtleneck sweater. Black sweat pants and one black Cuban heel completed my ensemble. "How do I look?" I asked, fishing for a compliment.
"Your hair has that F.F. look. Who's in there with you?"
"Why, nobody! What's 'F.F.'?"
"Other than your hair, fine, as usual," the redhead replied, but without much conviction.
"Are you sure, Rose?" I was practically pouting and was obviously desperate for a more enthusiastic response. I just wasn't having a Feel Pretty kind of day.
"For fuck's sake, you always look great! You make me sick! The sweats are a bit of a shock compared to your usual attire, however, and I do often wonder why, with such beautiful, long blonde hair, you bother to dye the roots that hideous shit brown color."
"Rose! I can't believe you just said that! As for the pants, they're the only ones I can get on over the cast!"
"What the hell! At least you'll be comfortable!"
"I can't wait to wear Levi's again!"
"Levi's! No self-respecting drag queen would be caught dead in a pair of jeans, much less Levi's! It's simply not natural, Ginger! Of course, you've never been overly concerned about natural. As for the jeans, they might be alright for going to a dude ranch or cleaning house as long as you were positive--and I stress positive here--that no guests were coming over and nobody would ever see you."
"Oh, Rose, I'm just not a normal drag queen!" I lamented.
"I've yet to see a normal drag queen!"
"You know what I mean."
"Yes, I suppose so." Rose adjusted his thick glasses and cleared his throat. "You know, it's so pleasant talking about your wardrobe and vocation, but assuming that you're ready to go, which in itself would be a miracle from God, don't I need to carry your suitcase or makeup bag or something out to the LeBaroness? I don't see you managing it by yourself. With the crutches, I mean."
"Oh, how rude of me! I'm so sorry! Come on in, Sissy!" I pivoted rather awkwardly in the doorway and made my way into the house with Rose, having closed the door, following. Heading in the direction of the kitchen, I asked over my shoulder, "Want some Java, Rose?"
"The carafe is in the livingroom on the cube next to where I sit, if you'd be good enough to grab it."
By the time Rose got to the kitchen, I was seated at the Fifties gray Formica-top table Mom gave me with my left leg propped up on it. "Doctor's orders," I said, indicating my affliction in response to Rose Elliott's quizzical expression.
"Oh. You know, Ginger, it is morally wrong to use a Fiestaware plate as a saucer under your fucking philodendron!" Rose took a big spoon out of a drawer and tasted from the pan warming on the stove before I could stop him. Grimacing, he said, "Tell D.J. that slop on the stove needs salt!"
"Would it taste better then, Rose?"
"It would help."
"That's simmering potpourri, Rose."
Pointing at the countertop with my crutch, I changed the subject, "Look at that goddamn dish!" Rose set down the carafe, picked up the almond-colored dish and I continued, "I scorched my Tupperware microwave casserole dish! Those fuckers are twenty bucks apiece!"
Rose tried to be sympathetic and calming, "Oh, I think you can get another one, Gin. Remember they come with a lifetime warranty?"
It didn't work. "Well, of course I remember!" I snapped. "I sold Tupperware before I sold Avon, remember? The guarantee is voided if the son-of-a-bitch gets burnt!"
"Oh. How did you do it, anyway?"
"Cooking some fruit."
"What was his name?"
After a moment's consideration, I snapped, "Knock it off! I'm out twenty bucks!"
"For fuck's sake, I'll buy you another one! Mellow out! How did you do it?"
"I was cooking some exotic fruit that I hadn't eaten before--you know my motto, Sissy, 'I'll try anything once!'--following the recipe down to the letter, mind you, and the little bastards turned into disgusting, unrecognizable tiny black pieces of sticky, stinky rubber that I had a helluva time scraping out of the dish!"
"You must have done something wrong. Let me see the recipe."
"I don't have it," I pouted and lit a cigarette.
"Say, that reminds me. You started smoking again?"
"I know better than that."
"I just found cigarettes smouldering in the livingroom, your bedroom, and the bathroom."
I giggled, "I get around rather well, don't I?"
"When did you start back up again?"
"Well...I simply couldn't resist Maurice's temptations. Sort of like Eve and the apple."
"Which, if you remember correctly, my little Witch, was offered to her by a snake!"
"Now where's this fucking recipe?"
"I told you, I don't have it!"
"Where is it?"
"In the goddamned microwave cookbook!"
"Where's the cookbook?"
"I threw it away!"
"You threw away an entire cookbook because you fucked up one recipe?" Rose was incredulous.
"Yes," I replied meekly.
"There outta be a law!"
"I was upset," I rallied for my defense.
"You're nuttier than I thought I was!"
"Well...I didn't want to be out forty bucks, now did I?"
"No, I suppose not," the heavyset drag queen answered absently as he looked about the kitchen distastefully and finished preparing the coffee. Rose continued to gaze around as he poured two big Marilyn Monroe mugs of steaming hot coffee, then sat down on one of the red vinyl chairs at the table. He shoved a mug across to me. Before I could ask him what was wrong, the redhead said, "Your kitchen is nice, Ginger. And I know how hard you've worked to make it like this. The whole fucking house! It's magnificent! God knows I've even helped you! But the kitchen! It's a model right out of a fucking Fifties magazine, but..."
"But what, Rose?"
"I hate it!" the heavyset queen exclaimed, lighting a Newport.
I was shocked, "Why?"
"Every time we sit in this kitchen, it reminds me of that lowlife bitch, Thumper!"
"She had a Fifties kitchen, too."
Rose bristled at the thought of the person he was about to describe and inhaled noisily. His brown eyes glazed behind his glasses as though he was actually looking back into the past. "Thumper's a coke-snorting sow! She always has cute boys trailing along behind her 'cause she keeps them doped up with Nose Candy."
"Is she famous?"
"She used to be," the redhead said, then rather reluctantly added, "She still is."
"Really? I've never heard of her. Maybe we could get her to do a show with us! A guest spot!"
Rose choked on his coffee. "Don't you dare!"
"Where does she perform?"
"I don't think she does drag anymore."
"Why's she famous, then?"
"Thumper's well-known now because she owns a gay bar in Saginaw."
"Oh? What's the name of it?"
"Oh. How did Thumper get a name like that?"
"Back when we started out--God, so long ago--everybody wanted to be unique, of course. Thumper's stage name at the time was Betty Astaire and she was a dancer. That little bitch could sure dance! One of the dances she did was clogging..."
I interrupted, "What's clogging?"
"Oh, it's a dance where the performer wears clogs or thick-soled shoes and beats out a clattering rhythm in time with the music. Like tap dancing on steroids. One of the trades nicknamed her Thumper in a review and..."
"Anyway," the queen said with firm emphasis, "It stuck. She was always known as Thumper after that. Eventually, that's how she was billed."
"Wow! How fantastic! It doesn't sound real! More like something you'd read about in the National Enquirer."
"She's not that famous!" Rose interjected coldly.
"Thumper's real enough alright! The only way all those cute boys would ever even consider having sex with the evil old whore is because she cokes them up. They're cute, but not totally stupid! A lot like you, Gin," the big redhead spoke affectionately.
"Why, thank you, Sissy," I said warmly as the diva got up and refilled our mugs, returned to the table, sat down and slid one of the mugs across to me. Having had time to think about it, I added, "I think."
Rose laughed "You're crazy!"
I smiled a genuine smile and said, "That may be, who's to say who's sane? You're like a Spring Tonic to me, Rose!"
"I make you shit?"
"No, Silly, you refresh me!"
"Like a douche?"
"What the fuck are you babbling about?"
"You bring me out of the doldrums."
"Now tell me about Thumper! I love your stories about the old days of drag!"
"For your information, little Miss Ginger McRae, there have always been drag queens in all cultures since time began. In Native American culture, for example, homosexuals are highly revered, while in other cultures, they are severely persecuted. When the first white men came upon the Hawaiian Islands, no pun intended, the natives didn't differentiate between the sexes--there were no words in their language for 'him' or 'her'. They lived however they felt. Ancient Rome was crawling with gay people! Ask Barbra about those days. Do you know that some ignorant hard-core anti-gay assholes blame the fall of the Roman Empire on the decadence of the homosexual population?" I was surprised and my mouth fell open. "You see," the heavyset redhead continued smugly, "I've read a book or two in my day, too! Say, did I ever tell you my definition of Single?"
"Stay Intoxicated Nightly, Get Laid Everyday."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"The first letter of each word spells Single."
"Oh, I understand! Sort of like Big Ugly Fat Fuckers Eating Together spells Buffet!"
Rose frowned, "Yeah."
"Or George Edgar's Old Grandmother Rode A Pig Home Yesterday!"
"Or Peter Rises, Eats Fish, And Catches Eels."
I was getting excited.
"Or the backwards way of spelling it! Eels Catch Alligators, Father Eats Raw Potatoes."
"Wait a minute! What the fuck are you babbling about now?"
"Well...that's how you can remember to spell Geography and Preface."
"Where did you learn that?"
"Mom. She told me that when she was a little girl, that's how she remembered to spell Geography and Preface."
"Okay, I understand. I should've known it was Mom. But you repeated three sayings--what was the other one for?"
"That's how you spell Preface backwards."
"Why would you want to do that?"
"I don't know. Mom's never explained that part."
"Did Mom ever do any heavy-duty drugs? Especially when she was expecting you? I could certainly understand her doing them after you came along!"
"Rose! There's one about your Newport cigarettes, too, but I sure didn't get that one from Mom!"
"What is it?"
Never Eat Wet Pussy On Rag Time spells Newport."
"Little Miss, as you get older, you're getting more and more sick! That sounds more like something I would've thought of. What's come over you? Not who, what?"
"It must be the people I hang out with."
"And what the fiddler's fuck is that supposed to mean?"
"Well, the ones from Mom were clean and worked out, though, didn't they?"
"Yeah, I get it."
"Smart ass! My mother told me if I wore boxer shorts, my thing would hang to my knees."
"Oh, my! Come on, Sissy, tell me more about Thumper!"
"Thumper's a lot older than me and I'd always tell her in front of the audience that I wanted to be just like her when I grew up."
"Fuck yes! Back then, we did more live stuff than they do now. Probably over fifty-percent. Now, hardly anyone uses his own voice. It's almost totally lip-sync now."
"Oh,I could never talk on a microphone!"
"I'm too shy."
"Bullshit! You're only shy until you've had two or three Kamikazes! Then you'd talk to the Devil himself! I used to perform live every night! Plus I lived in Flint and performed in Detroit, so I had that long drive after every show."
"I don't like my voice. If I, for one second, thought my voice actually sounded like I've heard on tape recorders, I'd never speak again!" I fervently vowed.
Rose laughed, "That's too much to hope for! Why don't you like your voice?"
"I sound like a fag!"
"So what? You are! What's the big mystery? You're the most well-known fag in Queen City!"
"I hate that word!"
"Why'd you just use it?"
"I guess because I don't like my voice. You think so?"
"It's possible, but around you, I try my best not to think."
"Now please tell me about Thumper!"
"Oh,all right! One time, I was in the middle of doing my comedy number--live, as I told you--and started singing, I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet when I saw Thumper walk in."
"Wow! What'd she do?"
"Nothing. Another time, she was late and we didn't know if she was going to show up or not, so Ernie, our show director said to start the show without Thumper. I walked out on stage and began my monologue, 'I'm sorry, but Thumper won't be performing this evening. With all the rain we had today, Thumper went out shopping in her yellow slicker and seven kids jumped on her back thinking she was a school bus.' The audience was still roaring when she finally arrived."
"What did Thumper do?"
"She fixed me with a cold stare as she walked past me to the dressing rooms."
"Is she overweight?"
Rose laughed sarcastically, "You always have such a pleasant way of saying, 'fat'!"
"Sorry. So is she?"
"Not compared to Orson Welles! She's not much lighter than a Sherman tank! Thumper's probably one of the reasons they now put sneeze guards over salad bars and smorgasbords."
"Why?" I asked, dreading the answer.
"So fat people don't just dive in!"
"One time, to get back at me, Thumper talked Ernie into convincing me to do a number in six-inch platforms! I gotta tell ya, Gin, I felt just like Lizzabitch Taylor in Cleopatra when she first enters Rome on that monstrous sphinx."
"What do you mean?"
"She's thinking, 'I hope I don't fall off this fucking platform!'"
My companion continued, "Another time, Thumper was dating a sailor and it was her night off, so they came to see the show. The gob got galled and Thumper was livid when I announced, "Thumper's loyal to the corps--Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, National Guard..."
"She's older than you?"
"That tired old bitch is older than dinosaur shit!"
"You're too much!" I laughed.
Rose continued, relishing his captive audience, "Speaking of age, it reminds me of what I did to Thumper for her birthday one year." The redhead chuckled, then noticed the pink neon kitchen clock. "Holy shit! We're running late! Have you got your things together?" All of a sudden, Rose became the White Rabbit. He was late for a very important date, it seemed.
"Oh, Rose, don't worry! My clocks are always set at least fifteen minutes ahead, remember?"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot about Ginger Time."
"Well, that way I'm never late for anything."
"Bullshit! You're always late for everything!"
"That's not true! Can we stop by the tobacco shop so I can get some of Maurice's cigarettes? I already called him, so they should be waiting for me. Do you mind?" I had gotten to my feet and was manipulating the crutches into the livingroom. I passed through it, still not without some difficulty on the soft carpet and made my way to the huge cedar-lined closet just inside the front door, off the foyer. I flung open the bi-fold mirrored doors and withdrew a long black trench coat, which I threw over my shoulder.
"Of course I don't mind, but no dawdling with that fucking Frenchman!" Rose warned as he hoisted up my filled-to-capacity soft-sided pink Samsonite suitcase.
"Or diddling! I know how persuasive Maurice can be! And I know how gullible you are! So no nothing! Got that?"
"What has that fucking Frenchman got that you can't resist?"
I thought for a moment, "Nine inches."
"That's succinct. Explains a lot! He's so short, though! He's too short!"
"Too short for what, Rose? Mom, being short herself, helped me to see things from a different viewpoint. When we're lying down, we're the same height. Until he gets excited, of course."
"You're such a tramp! Let's go!"
"I'm coming! I certainly wouldn't want to detain us for a minute from going on a trip with the legendary star, Miss Barbra Strysand!"
"Pull in your claws and don't you dare get snippy with me, Miss Thing!"
"You're just in a condition for me to kick your ass--not that I couldn't anyway--and don't think I wouldn't do it in a fucking heartbeat, either!"
I maturely stuck out my tongue at the redhead's back before continuing, "What time are we supposed to pick up the Great Star?"
"Oh, my! We might be just a trifle late! Pity!"
Rose Elliott shook his auburn head as I fumbled with the key to the front door. "You two bitches are going to give me a nervous fucking breakdown! Need help with that, Gin?"
"Nope! Got it!" I pivoted triumphantly and faced the driver smiling. "It's not too late to change your mind, you know. Babs would, of course, be upset, but she'd get over it."
"Oh, no, you don't! You're not backing out now! For one thing, I already lugged out your fucking suitcase! Now I understand why they call it luggage! What the hell do you have in there? Your rhinestone collection?"
"My makeup. And a few other toiletries."
"Do you use makeup when you're not onstage?"
"Naturally," I giggled.
"Ginger, if you wear makeup, it's not natural."
Rose chuckled, "Pretty pitiful when your makeup bag weighs more than you do."
Rose walked to the car totally unbalanced and visibly leaning to one side. In one hand was his hip bag (fanny pack, butt bag, whatever you call it--I call mine my pussy pouch), which he always carries like a clutch, and in the other, my suitcase. I hobbled along behind, my long flaxen hair flipping one way, then another at the mercy of the bitter cold late March winds off the Bay, which still blew in bold defiance of the inevitable oncoming Spring. Since the big redhead arrived at the LeBaroness first, he opened the trunk and deposited the suitcase, not without some effort and grunts, then opened the rear door of the gleaming white automobile and stood patiently waiting to help me into it. "I feel like a fucking bellhop!" Rose muttered as I got to the door.
"I feel like I'm such a bother, Rose. I don't know if I should go and be a burden on you for the whole trip. Then there's the money thing..."
"Shut up and get in the fucking car!" Rose barked and I bent over and looked into the back seat. Inside, the driver had outfitted the already luxurious interior with cushions of purple velvet and violet satin, and with an afghan knitted for Rose by D.J. in variegated shades of lavender, violet, and purple.
"Wow! It sure looks cozy, Sissy! I wish you hadn't gone to so much trouble on my account, though."
"Get in," the redhead ordered.
"Oh, all right! You're so pushy!"
"Fucking right! In about three seconds, I'm gonna knock your ass into the car!"
I was perplexed, "How the hell am I going to do this?"
"Sit your ass on the seat, then swing your legs in." I did as the driver instructed and, after a little bit of struggling and cussing, was sitting comfortably amongst the pillows with my left leg propped up on the seat with a pillow beneath it. I felt like Scheherazade or something! "There! You're all set!" Rose continued as he doted over me. The ashtray's in the middle, you can set the things you need on the floor next to you, and the windows are electric--simply push a button!" He enthusiastically explained all the conveniences to me, then added as an afterthought, "Oh, yeah, by the way, be careful of the window button on the side over there by your arm. It sticks sometimes."
"Gotcha! Okeetokee, I think I'm settled." Rose nodded, closed the door and got into the driver's seat, lighting a Newport as soon as he shut the door.
The driver coughed a deep, gravelly hack for a few minutes before catching his breath, then put the car into gear. It whined to go and finally, "Blastoff!" Rose broadcast jubilantly as the LeBaroness lunged forward on its way to the tobacco shop. We rode along silently for some time as the glistening automobile turned this way and that, making its way to the very heart of Queen City. Passing an attractive couple walking along the sidewalk, the devilish driver broke the silence, lowered his window and bellowed, "Ditch the bitch and make the switch!" Other than that, the vehicle was deafeningly quiet until the big redhead reached over, turned on the stereo and a favorite tune by the Carpenters filled the air. Halfway through the song, Rose spoke again, a mischievous note in his voice, "Did you know that Karen Carpenter is the Holy Patron Saint of Ethiopia?"
After moment's consideration, I burst out laughing, "Where did you hear that?"
"I just made it up," the driver answered seriously. When the Carpenters melody ended, another came on without interruption and Rose remarked, "Back to back, hmmm? You know, Ginger, if Karen Carpenter would've eaten half of Mama Cass Elliott's ham sandwich, they'd both be alive today!"
I was hysterical with laughter, but managed to compose myself when I suddenly realized the LeBaroness had pulled up in front of Maurice's Queen City Tobacco Shop. The hefty driver was whipping the steering wheel this way and that, busily maneuvering the vehicle into a parallel parking space. "I hate parallel parking! Motherfucker!" Rose exclaimed, then I felt a bump and heard the ear-splitting screech of metal scraping metal.
"Rose! I think you hit that car behind us!" I remarked, trying to be helpful.
"I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer," the driver spoke slowly and evenly, eyeing me severely in the rear-view mirror. "And we needn't go blabbering this little incident all over Queen City, either, Miss Hedda Hopper!"
"Geez! I was just trying to help!"
"Well, you're not!" the redhead spoke curtly, like it was my fault or something! No gratitude or anything, just bitch, bitch, bitch!
Rose jerked the LeBaroness forward and I asked, "Are you going to leave a note or something?"
"Of course not! Don't be ridiculous! They shouldn't have parked so close! Besides, nobody saw us and, as I've told you many times, this is certainly a normal-enough looking car, so I don't foresee any problems."
"Okay, Rose, whatever you say. I was laughing so hard, I hardly realized we were here. I'll be out in a minute, Sissy, I promise," I vowed as I leaned forward and grabbed the handle, opening the door.
"Oh, no, you don't."
"Why, whatever do you mean?"
"Like Ford, I gotta better idea!"
"I'm going in instead of you."
"Oooh, you don't have to do that."
"Oh, but I insist!"
"Because you are the only person I've ever known in my entire life who goes Power Shopping in places like tobacco and convenience stores."
"Well...they have sales sometimes and you know how much I love sales! Besides, interesting men hang out in those places."
"'Interesting' is not one of the words I would use to describe the men you meet in those places. I've seen some of them."
"I think you must be mistaken, Rose. Were you drinking at the time? You know you don't hold your liquor very well."
Rose exploded, "Kiss my big fat freckled royal fucking ass! You know perfectly well that I can drink your scrawny ass under the table any night of the fucking week! That goes for all the other Sisters, too! And what about the interesting paraplegic who asked you to tell him when his hand was on your dick because he has no feeling in it?"
"Rose! Really! He had M.S. How is it you seem to remember my sex life better than I do?"
"You drink. And it's my hobby! When you ain't getting it, you keep a closer eye on those that are. Vicariously, you know."
"Bullshit! Are you forgetting who you're talking to? I saw that cute little boy who came knocking on your front door the last time I was at your place!"
"That just goes to show how wrong people can be when they assume things! You know, Ginger, when you assume things, you make an ASS out of yoU and ME."
"That's pretty clever!"
"So what did I assume?"
"To begin with, the young man you happened to see at my humble abode was not the last. Secondly, he may be cute, and he may be a boy, legal age, of course, but there's absolutely no way he could ever be considered little! And furthermore, he was thankfully more interested in my back door than my front door!"
"Rose, you're a hussy!"
"Don't give me a title I have to live up to! You're over-exaggerating! I simply enjoy my leisure."
"Now! I'm going to march in there, get your damned cancer sticks and keep that freaky, frisky Frenchman away from you in the time it would take you to get your crippled ass out of the fucking car!"
"Gimp!" With that, the driver got out of the automobile, slammed his door and mine, and proceeded into Queen City Tobacco. I leaned back and tried to relax, enjoying euphoric thoughts and feelings.
I could still vividly recall the first time I had gone to the tobacco shop. It's a long, narrow, low-ceilinged business with dark paneled walls, recessed lighting, and air thick with the pungent mixture of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco smoke.
There had been five men there that day and I smiled now as I recalled the little mind game I had played with myself. Without looking directly at the other customers, I heard numerous subjects covered in conversation by a banker, a policeman, a New Age man, a business proprietor, and, of course, darling Maurice. Topics had ranged from politics, cheap cigarettes, and training bras ("What exactly do they train?"), to the problems with city government.
The banker bragged how well he was doing, while the businessman whined how taxes were Eating Him Up. The New Age man worried about Mother Earth's future in the incapable hands of the Washington bureaucrats. When the officer of the law had entered, one of the patrons had remarked, "You look like somebody pooped in your Easter basket," which had prompted a long-winded tirade about conjugal sex or rather, the lack of. The policeman then reassured his comrades that the newspaper articles condemning him for beating a "hippy fag" (his phrase) in Mayfield Valley were total fabrications. He'd simply taken the prisoner six miles out into the desolate heavily wooded countryside to talk to him and confiscate his marijuana, which, he confided in a lower voice, was some "good shit", then added, "and a warm, sloppy wet mouth and a tight ass always feels good", smiling broadly. Presiding over all was Maurice, helpful, friendly, and agreeable. He told me one time that owning a tobacco shop was like being a bartender or a barber. Everybody discusses everything.
I was fascinated when I finally did look at the local debaters to discover that the banker was dressed all in black like Johnny Cash, but with a turtleneck and a Detroit Tigers baseball cap. The policeman was short and pudgy (I instantly wondered how he could ever chase down a criminal) with a well-trimmed beard and sported a vest and tie, making him look more like a banker than the banker. The New Age man was tall and handsome, with very short blonde hair and glasses. The business proprietor was bald except for his fringe of shoulder-length gray hair and wore a bright red souvenir tee shirt from the Polish "Dozynki" Festival in Grand Rapids.
In their close-mindedness, they thought me a hippy, which to their way of thinking was not right, but acceptable, whereas if they had admitted to themselves that I am gay, they would've felt uncomfortable. Being a hippy is simply more acceptable in Queen City than being homosexual, although several businesses are gay-owned and operated, but not openly. If everyone came out of the closet, gay people would probably outnumber the straight people! Thus we spent a very unusual, albeit interesting, afternoon game playing.
The next afternoon, I had gone to my first coffee house, which had been just as memorable with its New Age music, artistic foreign posters, and numerous ceiling fans. Bitter, thick, ebony black espresso was served in tiny avocado-glazed demitasse cups with a Seventies design in gold. It made me so jittery, I fervently vowed that day to stick to regular coffee from then on, though I still frequent the shop, along with the usual eclectic clientele of actors, hippies, musicians, artists, poets, and writers.
It was at the coffee house that I met Neal. An obvious caffeine addict, he is short, with a stunningly handsome face, glorious bedroom eyes, and a sparkling Osmond smile. He has a lust for Life unequaled in anyone else I've ever met. At a time when I was feeling less than spirited, Neal came into my Life and showed me that I was in a sorrowful rut and needed to learn how to live again. With his guidance and inspiration, I gradually realized that I was setting for much less than I should.
"You can do better," Neal would quietly murmur to me and I got the definite impression that he meant more than man-wise. At first, I was hesitant about his proposals for my improvement, but persuasive as he is, I began to think better of myself. A perfect gentleman (damn it!) to the very end, he taught me more than men I've been more intimate with. He never told me to do anything (you don't do that with a Capricorn), but would merely suggest ideas that my singular and comfortably repetitive mind would never have considered.
Elmer Wade Bissell would refer to this particular peculiarity of mine as "Benny Logic", since he usually calls me by my boy name. I remember clearly when Elmer Wade first coined the phrase. He was evicted from his townhouse so it could be remodeled and the rent raised, as so often happens in Queen City, and was eagerly in search of a new habitat. One quaint tarpaper shack he looked at just outside the City limits (he called it a "chicken coop"--he's so stuffy!) had bricks in the small front yard surrounding what, at one time, must've been a flowerbed. Now they merely managed to make a circle in the turf around a young volunteer maple tree. Since, at the time, I had extra money and was constantly on a quest for bricks (dear Sister Denyse even brought some all the way from Ohio when he traveled in sales!) to complete my piazza and sidewalks, I asked Elmer Wade how much the rent was. He'd already made it quite clear that he had no intention whatsoever of renting the humble little house. I had my eye on that score of bricks.
"Wow! I could rent this house and steal the bricks from here to lay in the sidewalks at Pine House!"
I was exuberant until Elmer Wade remarked, "That's typical Benny Logic for you! Why don't you just call the brickyard and have them deliver three hundred dollar's worth of bricks?" That concept had never occurred to me.
Neal was so flirtatious and smooth, I was never quite sure if he was hitting on me or simply indulging my whims. I'm a firm believer in doing anything that I haven't tried before and, when I happened to mention that I'd never flown in a hot air balloon, he simply told me what afternoon he would be at Pine House to pick me up. It was an exhilarating experience, given my fear of heights, although I'm afraid I crushed poor Neal's hand, but the basic fear was obliterated by the spectacular view from the air of Queen City and the azure bay where it's situated, Mother Nature's Jewel of Northern Michigan. On another occasion, he took me two-tracking to a pond at night where there were so many stars and fireflies that I really couldn't tell which were which! They all blended together and were reflected in the mirror-like surface of the pond. It was a glorious sight I shall never forget! Neal is one of many amours who have flitted into my Life like a suddenly freed butterfly and just as quickly flitted away again, leaving me with warm memories. I never figured out why he quit seeing me, nor did he ever tell me, but men usually don't and I've been dumped so many times, I feel like a Hefty Cinch Sack! At least Neal had the decency to come tell me that he was going away and I wouldn't be seeing him. How gallant! I never saw him again. I'd like to say I've gotten used to being jilted, but I don't really think that's the case. I think I've become callused, instead. I took Neal's absence in stride, as I always do, and appreciated the fact that I'd learned from him definitely much more than he could've learned from me. His handsome face, like so many others, has basically become a blur since I have no photographs of him and all I recall are the great times we had together which, when you think about it, isn't that the best way to do it? Remember and cherish the good times and minimize any bad.
Rose Elliott simply could not or would not begin to understand the vibrant, dynamic, stimulating conversations that took place in such establishments. The variety of interesting people. The artists, musicians, actors, sculptors, philosophers, writers, poets, and Wiccans that I had met and entertained at Pine House would boggle the older drag queen's mind. I decided some things were better left unsaid.
True to his word, the flamboyant female impersonator soon emerged from Queen City Tobacco, shoes and jewels glittering in the bright afternoon sunshine. In his gem-encrusted hands he carried a beautiful varnished wooden Dominican Republic cigar box. Rose got to the car, opened the door, and thrust the container at me, saying, "That fucking Frenchman was bound and determined he was coming out to see you. Thank God that old battle-ax came in to buy pipe tobacco for her husband. I coulda kissed her! Saved me getting pecker tracks all over the back seat!"
"Rose!" I had been putting cigarettes from the opened box into my abalone cigarette case.
"What? You and I both know you can't resist him! And you're both so sleazy about it! Tramp!" Rose thought he was about to be admonished, but that wasn't the case.
The driver noted the change in my voice, "What is it, Ginger?"
"This box has a cardboard bottom."
"So?" Rose failed to comprehend.
"It's a wooden cigar box, Rose. Be very nonchalant. Start the LeBaroness and head for Barbra's while I investigate. Stick to the alleys and take your time."
"Who the hell are you? Jane Blonde 44D? What's with all the mystery shit?" Rose muttered as he started the engine and the sleek automobile pulled into traffic, amazingly quiet for driver.
"Doing good, Girl," I encouraged the driver as the vehicle made its way across the City to Barbra Strysand's flat.
"You know, Ginger, we have a strange and wonderful relationship! You're strange and I'm wonderful!"
"Eureka!" I exclaimed. I had been diligently working at removing the false bottom and now held it up and forward for the redhead to see. Pure shock entered my voice as I gazed into the box and uttered, "By the gods!"
"Holy shit, Silly!"
"What did you find, Ginger?"
"The secret compartment."
"You're too stoned!"
"Not yet, but soon!"
"What are you babbling about?"
"It's full, Rose."
"Full of what?"
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," the redhead muttered as he screeched to the curb of the practically deserted (thank the gods!) street and turned his bulk around in the front seat to look at the box that I held open. A wide smile crossed his broad freckled face and his brown eyes glistened behind his thick glasses as he looked at the neat rows of perfectly rolled joints, then chuckled, "What a way to go! I told you we'd have fun on this trip! I've got lots of money, you've got lots of weed, and you just know old Babs'll have some kind of hooch. You see, we're all contributing something." With that, he turned back around, facing the steering wheel.
"But Rose, with the Fudge I already had, you're going to be transporting over an ounce of Marahoochee!"
"So?" Rose depressed the brake pedal.
"We could go to prison!" I wailed.
Rose snorted, "How?" The driver put the vehicle into gear and the LeBaroness whined to go.
"If we ever got stopped..." I began, but was cut short by Rose.
"Nonsense! Don't be silly! You're always so melodramatic, Ginger! This is a normal-looking automobile and I happen to be an excellent driver!" the redhead snapped as he released the brake, hit the accelerator, and the car lunged forward with an ear-splitting squeal of tires, leaving behind us two very distinct long black tire marks.
"What should we do, Sissy?" I asked as I braced myself to round a corner.
"We're going shopping!"
"I mean about the pot!"
"Oh, yeah, that's a lot of weight. We better start smoking."
"You wanna get high while you're driving?" I was surprised, but lit a joint.
"You think I'm going to stop every time we want to get high? The way you smoke? Silly Girl! We won't have time to finish a whole doobie before we get to Barbra's, though."
"That's all right, I'll roach it for Dry Times. It's not like I don't have enough right now."
The LeBaroness continued on its way, stopping and starting appropriately according to the combined influences of the redheaded driver and the street signs and lights. As I handed the joint to Rose for the third time, we wheeled up in front of a large, well-kept Georgian house, one of many fine old homes to fall victim to apartments and greedy loathsome rental lords. It's a squarish building with conservative trim and conservative everything except for one of the tenants on the third floor.
"Here we are!" Rose tried to sound musically enthusiastic and failed miserably. You simply never know what kind of mood Barbra Strysand will be in.
"Oh, I don't think I'll go up. You just run up and get her."
"Oh, no, you don't, Crippled Kate! If I gotta go, you gotta go!"
"Rose, it's three stories!" I whined.
"Suffer! Get out!"
"I hope Babs is recieving," I said as I opened the door, pulled myself over to it and sat, legs hanging down.
"She is," the driver grunted shortly as he pulled himself up and out of the vehicle.
"How can you be so sure?" I was standing now, albeit somewhat unsteadily, and the redhead slammed the door. "Before I broke my leg, she invited me over, then wouldn't answer her door, even though I could hear her scurrying around inside like some giant rat."
My idea of a good time was definitely not hobbling up two flights of stairs only to discover that the Great Star, Miss Barbra Strysand wasn't going to answer the fucking door! And then there was the treacherous trip back down the two flights of stairs! Oh, I was so petrified of going down steps!
Inside the foyer of the old house at the bottom of a grand staircase, the heavy-set redhead calmly explained, "When we get to the top of these two fucking flights of stairs, if the Great Star doesn't answer the door--provided, of course, I haven't had a heart attack and dropped dead by then--I will knock the mother fucker in!" Rose had another one of his coughing fits, after which, we began our ascent.
"Rose! You wouldn't!" I protested, but for some reason, it made me feel somewhat better to know my dangerous upward journey would be vindicated. I was having some difficulty maneuvering the first few steps.
"The hell I wouldn't! Just watch me! That bitch knows not to fuck with me!" Rose helped me get started, then continued, "After calling ahead of time, making a fucking appointment, and then taking the effort to climb up all these fucking steps, you bet I'll knock that bitch's door in!"
We continued our ascent without further speaking, the silence being broken only by the labored wheezing of the redhead. After what seemed an eternity of grueling, laborious uphill climbing, we arrived at a very long hallway. At the first bone white door set in the ruby-red flocked patterned wallpapered wall, we stopped. Hesitating just long enough to catch his breath with his hands on his knees and bent forward slightly, Rose straightened up and banged resoundingly with the massive gleaming brass lion-headed door knocker.
Within the flat, a flurry of activity could be heard. First, the eject button on the host's ancient stereo had obviously been pushed for soon the dynamic voice of Barbra Streisand was replaced, after a brief pause, by more soothing classical instrumental music. Chances are (I could picture it all in my head, knowing Babs as well as I do), he's probably closing the black Venetian blinds after having sat looking out the window for us for who knows how long. Now lighting the ever-present black tapers in the shiny brass candlesticks on the sparkling glass and brass coffee table. Now sauntering to the door like Jack Benny. True to my suppositions, the sound of footsteps softly padding toward the door could now be heard. There was a slight hesitation as Barbra's gray eye peered through his peephole door viewer. Another footstep was heard, as though Babs was backing away from the door.
"So help me..." Rose grumbled, but let the unfinished threat die on his lips, as a rattling chain was audible on the other side of the door. Barbra was undoing the chain lock.
Suddenly, the door flung open and there stood Stuart Archer, alias Barbra Strysand. Hair slicked back as he tends to do with what precious little he has left, he wore shimmering peach satin lounging pajamas and black satin slippers. "Dahlinks!" Babs gushed, using his fake Jewish accent which always makes him sound like a ludicrous impostor of the Real Star. "Come in," the host continued and smiled warmly at us. I felt like Renfield being welcomed by Count Dracula into his castle in one of those old horror movies, but I remained silent and merely returned Barbra's smile with a devastatingly sweet one of my own. Babs apparently didn't notice any peculiarities in my behavior and continued, "Let me take your wraps, Goils."
Rose, on the other hand, had absolutely no intention of being warm or sweet. Out of breath and feathers obviously ruffled, the heavy-set drag queen began, "Why don't they put an elevator in this fire trap? Better yet, why don't you move someplace more convenient?"
"Because my father owns this building," our host spoke quietly, soothingly. It was nerve-wracking to me. Rose kicked off his black patent leather slip-ons and marched along the Hall of Flame to the livingroom, alternately coughing and continuing his tirade as I hobbled quietly along behind.
"I worry about you, Barbra! This place is a deathtrap! It's so old! I bet it still has its original wiring, doesn't it?" Babs shrugged his slender shoulders and the redhead continued, "And the way you smoke in bed! It's a fucking disaster waiting to happen!"
"I don't smoke in bed." Still quiet, reserved.
"Of course you do! We all do! Do you have an ash bowl on your nightstand?" Barbra nodded. "There! See?" The balding drag queen moved to the center of the room and Rose seemed to notice him for the first time--especially what he was wearing. "What's that?" the redhead asked haltingly as he pointed a trembling diamond-encrusted index finger at our host.
"What you've got on."
"I told you we were going out for the night, not coming to spend the night!"
"I realize that, Rose Dahlink."
"Is that what you're wearing to Saginaw?"
"No, of course not, Silly Goil! They're for loungink around the home, hence the name. Small cocktail parties and such. I thought surely you would know what they're for, even if Ginger didn't, Dahlink." The bitch!
Rose's face turned beet red. I feared a bloodbath! "I know very well what they're for!" Rose snapped, then continued menacingly, "You mean to stand there and tell me that after I called you, made all these plans, and climbed up all those fucking steps, you're not ready?"
Barbra, however, remained calm and nonchalant, "Calm down, Rose. Your jowls are quiverink. Breathe deeply. Remember your blood pressure."
"Fuck my blood pressure!"
"That is certainly not the way to relax!"
"Barbra..." the big redhead began threateningly.
"I prepared a little luncheon for us before we leave on our adventure." Barbra Strysand pressed his long, slender hands together in front of him as a schoolgirl might do after surprising a peer with a gift crafted with her very own hands. Rose Elliott's face fell. If the wind was ever taken from someone's sails, it was Rose. Caught off guard, his mind seemed to be afloat, not knowing what to do or say, and it was quite evident by his facial expression or rather, the lack of. It was plain that he was in shock, though not necessarily a happy one. Barbra smiled again and said, "Have a seat, Dahlinks." Rose moved to the sofa and gracefully sat down, still speechless. The host, still smiling, swept out of the room and called from the kitchen, "Would you Goils like a cocktail?"
Still standing with my crutches, I muttered, "I wonder if she means Kool-Aid or Ripple?" Then louder, I answered Babs, "Yes, please." I might as well drink her booze!
The big redhead blinked his brown eyes as if coming out of a coma and rasped, "Something non-alcoholic for me, Barbra, please." Then to me, "I can't stand her high-octane Coke!" He looked about the room with displeasure and all perplexity seemed to vanish from his freckled face. In an instant, Rose was back to his caustic self again, "Why don't you open these fucking blinds and get some sunlight in here?"
"Nobody looks good in bright light!" Babs called cheerily from the kitchen. "Vodka and Coke okay, Gin?"
"Fine, thanks." I sat down as gracefully as I could on the mammoth black velvet couch. I had just settled and propped my crutches next to me when Barbra swept back into the room carrying a silver tray of cocktails.
"Every time you visit me, Gin-Gin, I spend the next several days pickink that long fuckink blonde hair off the couch! I should save it all and make a wig, maybe? Nah, I was never a blonde."
"I'm sorry, Babs," I lied, reaching for my crutches.
"Oh, no! That's alright, Dahlink! You're just worse than an Afghan hound!"
Rose laughed, "How ironic! I used to have an Afghan hound named Ginger!"
"By the way, Rose, the host began. "I gotta postcard from Diva Divine and Carol Cuntswayla."
"Really! How are those two old broads?" Rose smiled.
"They retired in South America, you know."
The balding queen didn't seem to be suitably excited to hear from old friends and Rose asked, "What did the postcard say?"
Barbra's cold gray eyes narrowed as he hissed through perfect glistening white teeth, "Those fuckink pig bitches sent me a postcard that read, 'Swimming in the Amazon! Wish you were here!'"
Rose burst out laughing.
I was a little slow. "Isn't that where the piranhas are?" I asked thoughtfully.
Rose chuckled, "Didn't take you too long!"
Babs handed out the drinks, then slapped his high forehead. "Oy Vay! I forgot the serviettes! I'll be right back!" He flitted out of the room.
I picked up my glass, took a sip and grimaced. Rose looked at me distastefully and whispered, "Why do you always drink out of those damned stemmed glasses when you're around Barbra?"
"Babs expects me to be elegant, since she considers me to be her protege," I whispered back.
"Bullshit!" the redhead responded, no longer whispering.
"Wot are you Goils talkink about?" Barbra had come back unannounced.
"I...uh...said, 'Bullshit'!" Rose was in a pinch!
"You have such a Potty Mouth, Rose!" Babs admonished.
"Uh, Ginger was whining about her fucking ankle and not going and I said, 'Bullshit'! She's going! Yes. That's it. She's going!" I thought the hefty drag queen looked somewhat relieved.
"I do so detest whiners," the host began, then turned to me and continued, "They did give you good drugs, though, didn't they, Dahlink?"
"Yes," I began to dig in my bag for the bottle.
"Wot?" Barbra inquired, hungrily rubbing his slender hands together.
"Percodan," I replied, producing the pills.
"Oh, my, yes! Those are nice!" The host seemed transfixed, like Dracula peering at plasma, as he slowly rolled the bottle of pain pills back and forth in his long, thin hands.
"Speaking of your ankle, aren't you supposed to keep it elevated?" Rose asked.
"That's alright. I'm fine."
"Oy Vay! Where's my head? Here, Dahlink Ginger, put your leg up on the coffee table," Barbra said as he cleared an area.
"It's glass, Babs. I don't want to scratch it."
"And I don't want you to scratch it, that's why I'm goink to put this throw pillow under your cast. But when were you evah overly concerned about scratchink a coffee table? Don't forget that Queen Anne coffee table I got from you years ago with the scratched up top! Took me days and gallons of furniture polish to remove those fuckink scratches! Remember? When I asked around about how the scratches got there, everyone told me that Miss Ginger McRae had danced on the table during one of her decadent after-hours sexcapades! Our Sistah!"
"Oh," was all I could manage.
"Now put your foot up! And please don't evah forget, it's 'Barbra', not 'Babs'."
"I always call you, 'Babs', Babs," I remarked as I ever so carefully rested the cumbersome cast on King Tut's golden face heavily embroidered on the luxurious pillow that Barbra had placed on the glass coffee table.
"You're the only bitch who gets by with it! I simply won't tolerate it from anyone else!"
"Geez, thanks a lot."
"You should've seen Ginger the other day when I went to visit her, Barbra," Rose said.
"I could've if you had stopped and picked me up."
Ignoring Babs, the redhead continued, "When I walked in, she was in the middle of planning her next bash, after the cast comes off.
"I asked her how the plans were coming and she said she'd gathered up all her broken jewelry for the treasure chest she got from that sweet neighbor lady, Evelyn."
"A pirate party is such a fun affair!" I interjected.
"You should've seen her, Barbra! You could tell she was up to something big! Plans were forming amidst stacks of books--from juvenile to scientific--dictionaries, encyclopedias, rolls of steamers, half-blown balloons, and stacks of maps. There, in the middle of it all, was our favorite blonde. Apparantly aided by a jauntily placed pirate hat, a gold plastic sword, and a Jolly Rodger flung over her shoulders. There was hardly any room on her great big bed for me to sit and visit!"
"That certainly sounds like our Dahlink Gin-Gin! Thorough!"
My chest swelled with pride.
It's true. I always shoot for as much authenticity as possible, poring through books, and finding everything I can relating to the theme of the party, whether it be Mexican, German, Irish, Ancient Rome, Circus, or whatever. Some parties are months in planning! When I had the Canadian party, for example, I sent letters to every province in the country requesting literature and, when I received it, promptly stapled it up on the walls. By the time of the party, the walls of the livingroom were virtually covered in posters, pamphlets, and paraphernalia. Dear Mom, carried away with the excitement of planning the party and always contributing something, approached me with what she considered a fabulous idea.
I was stoned, on the top step of my ladder awkwardly stapling up a particularly large poster of Quebec City when she said, "I've got something Canadian you can staple up on the walls!"
Instantly curious, knowing full well that Mom has never been a big fan of Canada, I couldn't possibly imagine what she could have that would be Canadian.
"Cool! What is it?" I asked.
"Had a lot of Fudge today?" Mom asked me knowingly as I gingerly descended the steps of the ladder down to the third step.
"Of course! Whatcha got?"
"This!" Mom announced triumphantly as she burrowed into her huge purse. (It's a wonder I'm not lopsided from carrying Mom's purse to her when I was little! In Mom's defense, however, you could ask her for anything and she'd magically produce it out of her purse just like Mary Poppins!) She withdrew a three-inch thick neatly stacked wad of paper money banded in the middle with tape.
"Money, Benny! Didn't I teach you better then that?"
"To put on the walls!"
"I don't understand," which was putting it mildly.
"It's Canadian money. I'm sure in hell not going to Canada!" Mom declared adamantly.
"Where'd you get it? Rob a bank?" Nosey, aren't I?
"None of your business! I inherited it! So here, staple it up," she said, shoving the stack of bills at me.
"Mom, it's money! I can't just staple up Canadian currency!"
"Well, why not, for heaven's sake?" Mom persisted, jabbing the wad of cash at me.
"It's not natural!"
"You shouldn't be one talking about natural, Dear."
"Now, here, staple it up! It'll look good! A little here, a little there..."
"Mom," I began patiently, "The Canadians that I've invited to the party will snatch the walls bare if we put up hundreds of dollars worth of real money!"
"So what?" Mom shrugged her rounded shoulders. "And actually, it's over a thousand, but who cares? It'll save you having to take down decorations after the party!"
"Mom, it's money!"
"See? I knew you'd learned that much from me!" Mom laughed delightedly.
"It's real money!"
"It's only real to the Canadians, Benny. Nobody else wants it! I considered using them for bookmarks, but Earle Stanley Gardner didn't write that many!" Mom shrugged her shoulders again.
"I love you so much, Mom!" She merely looked at me with her beautiful hazel eyes. "Okay, you win," I said, defeated. Mom smiled. Nobody can win against my mother's logic! Maybe that's where I get it from!
"Don't forget we're going to lunch tomorrow."
"Oh, I don't know, Mom..."
"We're going to patronize the restaurant where Britt works and leave her a big tip!"
"But why, Mom? We hate the food at Chili's! It gives us both indigestion and the booths are too damned close to the tables!"
"Because Britt works there. And when we're done eating, we're going to go shopping at Target and buy something from Denyse."
"I hate Target!"
"You're too young to hate so much! It's not my fault that your sisters get jobs where they do! But wherever they work, we will patronize that business!" Mom announced with authoritative finality.
"Look, Benny, there's something I want you to promise me when I die. I've put a lot of thought into this."
"I don't want to talk about stuff like that, Mom! I'm planning a party!" I said, feeling uncomfortable. Who wants to talk about that subject? Ever!
"Nevertheless, listen! When I die, I want twelve nude men dancing around my casket. If I don't sit up to count them, I'm good to go! Close the lid!"
"Mom!" I laughed so hard, I almost fell off the ladder.
"Make sure my roots are done and don't you dare put shoes on me or I'll come back and haunt you!" Mom added as an afterthought, counting off on her fingers. "I don't care if I do burn my feet! I'm going where the crowd goes!"
"When I went to pick up Ginger, I was telling her about Thumper while we were having coffee," Rose said.
"So that's why you Goils were tardy! Dawdlink at Ginger's!"
"Better than diddling at Barbra's!" I said brightly.
"I can always tell when she's been hangink out with you, Rose Elliott!"
"What do you mean?"
"She gets so mouthy!"
"Like Miss Ginger McRae wasn't mouthy when we first met her!"
"What about Thumper?" I asked innocently to redirect a potential catfight.
"She is a Snow Queen bitch! With no talent wotsoevah! Slept her way to the top, then kept on sleepink!" Barbra Strysand spat dramatically.
"Ginger had never heard of her," the hefty queen remarked, rather astonished.
"Why on earth would she? Oy Vay! You and I are old to Gin-Gin! Thumper is fucking ancient!"
"Speak for yourself, Bitch!" Rose lit a Newport and choked.
"It's true! As much as I hate to admit it, it's true! We're the Old Drag Queens you hear tell about! And if either of you two Goils evah tell anybody I said that, I'll flat out deny it!"
"Remember Lana LaRue?"
"Oy! She was also a bitch!" Barbra spat again.
"That's true," the redhead conceded.
"A back-stabbing, cum-guzzling, coke-snorting, nickel-tricking, dick-licking, low-life fucking pig whore-bitch from the blackened oozing fire pits of Hell!" Babs embellished.
"Don't hold back, Babs! What'd you really think of her?" I teased the older queen.
"Still wasn't as bad as Thumper and the way she died was absolutely ghastly!" Rose shuddered.
"Served the bitch right!" Babs hissed.
"Why?" I asked.
"All that fuckink hair!" Babs shot back and my hand involuntarily flew to my head.
"That's no reason!" Rose defended the deceased.
"How did Lana die?" I asked, quite intrigued by the veil of secrecy in the room.
"The rotten bitch drowned!" Barbra snapped, torching a Kool.
"Well...I suppose there are worse ways to die," I contemplated.
"Lana didn't just drown," the redhead uttered very, very mysteriously.
"What happened?" I asked, my blue eyes wide.
"You tell her," the hefty drag queen ordered the other.
"I will not!"
"Why not?" I asked, lighting a cigarette.
"What the hell is that smell? That's not a joint," Rose sniffed as the pungent smoke filled the air.
"They're Gauloise. Maurice gets the tobacco in bulk from his family in France, then adds a hint of sage and rolls it into cigarettes for the two of us. Isn't that romantic?" I gushed.
"Charming," the redhead stated flatly.
"Dissgusstink," the balding diva hissed.
"They're really quite wonderful! Would either of you like one?" I offered, ignoring their remarks.
Rose responded first, "No, thanks. They smell too much like Thanksgiving to me and it's almost Spring, not Autumn. I want to enjoy my Summer, if you don't mind, before that long, inevitable Winter." I thought it rather an odd refusal. Why not be like our own beloved Betty Ford and just say, "No"?
"No, I think not. I'll uh stick to my Kools. You go ahead, though, Dahlink, the burnink candles will soon take care of the unpleasant odor," the host said, unable to smell.
"If you like, I can put it out, Babs," I half-heartedly suggested.
"Of course not! You know I have no sense of smell and I don't think the stench offends Rose too much, does it, Rose Dahlink?"
I looked imploringly at the heavier drag queen. "No, I'm fine. It has a peculiar aroma, that's all."
"See?" Barbra spread his long, slender fingers out as if to say everything was okay.
"All right," I relaxed, then said, "Now tell me more about Lana LaRue!"
"Oh! I almost forgot! Are you going to tell her, Barbra, or should I?" Rose asked with a shudder.
"I'm not goink to!"
"I'm quite bored with the subject, that's why!" Babs sniffed in his nasally voice.
"Board? What kind? I think Black Walnut is so pretty..."
"Earth to Gin-Gin!" Barbra laughed.
"I guess I'll tell you then," the redhead sighed.
"The bitch was snatched bald-headed!" Babs blurted, touching his own thinning head.
"What?" I was shocked.
"Lana had long hair like you, Ging, but it was flaming red..." Rose began.
"Except for the sooty black roots!" Barbra interjected.
"Anyway," the rotund queen said with great emphasis and shot our host a quick, cold glance, "Lana was doing her laundry one day and didn't pull her hair back in a ponytail. The washing machine became unbalanced..."
"So was Lana!"
"Will you please shut the fuck up?"
"Barbra..." Rose Elliott's jewels glittered magnificently in the candlelight as he began to patiently and methodically tap his perfectly manicured nails on the glass-topped coffee table.
"Oy Vay! All right!" Babs pouted.
"Now! When Lana opened the washer and leaned over, the agitator was still spinning. It caught her hair, pulled her head down into the machine and, besides scalping her, it broke her neck and she drowned. That's where the authorities found her three days later. All bloated and stinking. Dreadful way to go!"
"How awful!" I was genuinely appalled.
"Looked bettah than she evah did onstage!" Barbra cattily interjected.
"How do you know?"
"I went to her funeral."
"You went to Lana LaRue's funeral?"
"Naturally, I wanted to make sure the bitch was really dead!" Babs replied rather matter-of-factly, I thought. "So I stuck her."
"What do you mean?"
"I stuck a pin into the bitch's corpse." Barbra coldly embellished.
"Barbra Strysand!" Rose was aghast.
"Wot? You can't be too careful!"
Shaking his head slowly at the eldest queen, the redhead said, "The other day, I was trying to think of that old queen from New York. Remember her, Barbra? The Queen from Queens?"
"What was that bitch's name? I wonder if she's still kicking?" Rose said, perplexed. "Anita..."
"Mann? Oh, no, Rose! She's old and tired and retired! And wasn't from the Big Apple!"
I suppressed a giggle. These were good times.
"No? Maybe Ivana..."
"Mann? Her sistah? No, no, she died years ago."
"How do you know?"
"I went to her funeral."
"You went to Ivana Mann's funeral?"
"You sure go to a lot of funerals!" I pointed out. I'd been quiet and good for as long as I could!
"I like to make sure they're really dead before I talk about them."
"Never stopped you before!" Rose remarked.
"Babs, I've noticed over the years that you have absolutely no female friends. Fans, but no friends. Why is that?" I asked innocently.
"Can't trust the back-stabbing pigs!"
"But that's what you say about drag queens!" I was totally confused!
"Practically the same difference, Dahlink Gin-Gin."
"Surely..." I began, but was viciously interrupted by Barbra.
"Don't evah call me, 'Shirley'!"
After a moment's consideration, I continued, "You can't possibly say that real women and drag queens are the same!"
"Of course they are, Dahlink! Maybe not in the plumbing department..."
"How can you say that?" I was flabbergasted.
"Oy Vay! My poor little naive Gin-Gin! Those low-life drag queens you're apparently so fond of hangink out with will do anythink (includink puttink ground glass in your face powder!) in their power to steal your spot in the show lineup and make you look like an old washed-up has-been."
"They'll do anythink in their power to steal your man and make you look like a simpering fag."
"But we're all drag queens!"
"Au contraire! Wot nonsense! Don't be ridiculous! We are Female Impersonators, not drag queens! There's more talent in this room than in all the drag queens in Queen City! Pigs!"
"Oooh, thank you, ever so," I cooed and Rose groaned.
"Wot did you think of that gladiator fifty movie set I loaned you, Gin-Gin?"
"Well, some were corny. Some I simply couldn't watch. Some were terribly historically inaccurate. Like Hercules In The Middle Ages! I couldn't watch that one. I especially liked the one with Peter Lupus. He was on Mission:Impossible, you know. And he was in Playgirl. Oofah Doofah! I clearly recall his tallywhacker to this day!"
"You're a Mission:Impossible," the hefty redhead grumbled.
"While critiquing all the movies, you did notice the fuckink gladiators, didn't you?"
"Oh, yes! Yummy! All those bulging biceps!"
"You had me worried for a second!"
"Babs, there's something I've always wanted to ask you."
"Why do you spell your stage name, S-T-R-Y-S-A-N-D, instead of the way she does?"
"Wot, you want I should get sued maybe?"
I giggled after taking another sip of my volatile cocktail and the two queens looked at me. "I was so embarrassed when I went shopping downtown with Elmer Wade before I broke my ankle."
"You? Embarrassed? I can't picture that evah happenink!"
"You know, Ginger, I realize you think Elmer Wade Bissell is your best friend--Sisters, of course, being beyond the realm of friend--but he's not as much of a friend as you may think," the redhead was starting another of his lectures about the people I hang out with.
"I think you're mistaken, Rose."
"Am I? Haven't you ever wondered why he always gets laid and you don't?"
"Thanks for reminding me!"
"Barbra thinks he's high-class."
"My Dahlink Goil, let me clarify somethink. He is high-class for the burg where he's from, but considerink that's it's only a wide spot in the road, it would be difficult not to be high society as long as he could read. No, Gin-Gin, Elmer Wade Bissell is only high-class in his own head. Think about his name! Hillbilly through and through! He's merely a small-town boy who had enough smarts to get the fuck out! Now, he's self-righteous because he's a nurse. In his burg, he may very well be high society, but outside the village limits, he's nothing but a homely arrogant asshole."
"Well?" Rose repeated.
Maybe the hefty redhead was right this time, "You'll never believe what he did one night at West End Beach!"
"I think I'd believe anything that scum did. I don't think he has any class or scruples."
"He took a dick right out of my mouth and left with the guy!"
"Doesn't surprise me," the redhead remarked casually.
"And you think that's a friend?" Barbra asked, amazed.
"She's not going to listen to us, Barbra, so you might as well save your breath. So what happened when you and Elmer Wade went downtown?" Rose thankfully gave up on the subject of Elmer Wade Bissell's shady character.
"What did you do?" Rose asked accusingly.
"I didn't do anything!"
"All right, then, what happened?"
"Well, we were walking along the sidewalk and met this tall, dark, handsome man walking in the opposite direction. He looked somewhat familiar, but this isn't that big a city, so I figured I'd probably seen him at one of the bars or at one of my afterglows."
"That would be a reasonable assumption."
"I'm gettink the distinct impression that this is goink to be a Good One!" Barbra spoke excitedly, rubbing his slender hands together.
"Shush!" Rose said to Barbra.
"Anyway," I stressed, "We chatted amiably, then proceeded on our way. As we walked along, Elmer Wade said, 'You're disgusting!'"
"This from a friend?" Barbra shook his head sadly.
"Oh, I don't know, Barbra, I've thought that about Ginger on occasion."
"Like at a salad bar? Oy Vay! Wot a mess!"
"Do you two want to hear this or not?"
"Of course! You need to quit getting sidetracked."
"All right! 'What are you talking about?' I asked Elmer Wade."
"'Do you know who that man was?' he asked."
"Who was it?" Barbra asked excitedly.
"Shut the fuck up or we'll never find out!" Rose complained.
"'Well, he did look familiar,' I admitted to Elmer Wade."
"'That was Grant!'"
"'He was your Husband Number Three, I think.'"
"'Don't be silly! Why would I ever get rid of a gorgeous hunk of man meat like that?'"
"'Who knows? Like I would even begin to understand how you think!'"
"'I was thinking Number Three was Rex.'"
"'No, I'm pretty sure it was Grant.'"
"'See? Disgusting! You don't even remember that he was your husband, much less which one!'"
"That sounds so much like you, it's pa-fucking-thetic!" the redhead admonished.
"My question is: Do you Girls remember a Grant?"
"I have to agree with Elmer Wade on this point," Barbra remarked, then took a big gulp of his cocktail.
I followed suit and giggled again, "This is so much fun! I really love it when we get together! Hey, you know what I'm thinking?"
"We'd nevah dream of thinkink wot you're thinkink! Wotevah it is, we probably already thought of it years ago!" Barbra spat indignantly.
"What are you thinking?" Rose asked.
"Why don't the two of you collaborate and write a book about your colorful, adventurous lives and all the interesting people you've known?"
"I couldn't possibly," Barbra stated flatly.
"Why not, Barbra? All you do all day is sit around here polishing your fucking brass, watching old movies, getting sloshed, and thinking of devious plots to rid the world of Oswald Beamer," the redhead chided the eldest drag queen.
"Brasso is my friend."
"Very well! I refuse to be an accomplice to another one of Miss Ginger McRae's dreadful little schemes!"
"That's ruthless, even for you, Barbra!"
"Oy Vay! How quickly you've forgotten that we were almost arrested because of Miss McRae?"
Wasn't my fault the cop thought we were hookers! I'll never forget him gruffly saying, "Keep it moving, Ladies!" And my response in a skin tight to the ankle dress was a weak protest, "I'm moving it as much as I can, Officer!" He wasn't amused.
"I still think it was because you showed too much boney leg," Rose addressed Barbra.
Our host shrugged his slender shoulders, "Oy Vay! They paid their quarter, give 'em a show!"
"Quit being such a prude about the book or I'll give Ginger an expose' about you, Miss Barbra Strysand!"
"You wouldn't dare!" Babs challenged.
"Oh, wouldn't I? Ginger, one time, when Barbra was about twenty-three (real age), she..."
"I have too much to do!" Barbra quickly interjected .
"Too much or too many? As for myself, I don't have time. No one would believe it, anyway! It'd have to be sold under fiction!"
"Well...maybe I'll do it, then! I'll write a book about the two of you! How's that?" I was excited and clapped my hands together in delight.
"You don't know anythink about writink a book!" Barbra was cattily quick to point out my folly.
"Oh, Babs, how hard can it possibly be? Besides, I'm sure I told you Girls about George, the publisher who promised to work closely with me on any project."
"Including every dirty little detail, if I recall correctly," the hefty queen confirmed.
I giggled, "He's not dirty or little!"
Miss Barbra Strysand, the Great Star, yawned a campy, bored, stage yawn and drawled, "Yes, yes, Dahlink Gin-Gin, do wotevah you like. Remember, though, I don't sign autographs or grant interviews on weekends. The weekends are mine! You'll have to catch me during the week."
"Who the fuck would want your autograph these days? And if anyone 'catches' you, you'll probably go to federal prison in at least three states I know about!" Rose commented.
Rose I ignored Babs, "You know, Kiddo, this just might be good therapy for you while you're convalescing."
"Sorta like basket weaving?"
"Uh, yeah, I suppose," the redhead answered haltingly, giving me a quizzical look from behind his thick glasses. "I'll help out in any way I can."
The rotund redhead suddenly chuckled, "Hey, I think I'll write a book about you and call it, Ginger Bred Men!"
"Girls, can I ask you a question?"
"Wot, we start with the questions already?"
"Shoot," Rose said.
"Well," I began, as I'm afraid I so often do--a habit picked up from Samantha Stevens. "I met this guy at one of my afterglows the other night and I've been wondering something ever since."
"What?" My Sisters asked in unison.
"Can you get stretch marks from giving head?"
"Of course," Babs quickly answered first, matter-of-factly. "I knew this guy once who tried to convince me that he had dimples, but listen to me, Dahlink, no dimples run from your mouth back to your ears!"
"How long before the grub's ready, Barbra?" Rose was getting fidgety and anxious to get started on our journey. "I want to get on the road before nightfall, for fuck's sake!"
"I'll go check on it, Rose," Barbra rose and walked steadily--a little too steadily, I thought--into the kitchen.
"Do you need any help, Babs?" I called out.
"Like you could help me! No, you rest your leg, Dahlink. We have a long trip ahead of us," the host replied, then added, "I wish I'd remembered to get caviar for hors d'oeuvres. I do so adore caviar!"
"Caviar is nothing more than expensive salty fish fetuses," the redhead remarked to me and I laughed.
"I think it's time for our before-dinner smoke," I said as I removed my abalone cigarette case from my bag.
"Fire in the hole!" Rose bellowed.
By the time Barbra returned, the joint was burning merrily and I giggled as I handed it to him.
"Wot?" Babs demanded.
"Remember the underwear ad that used to say, 'I feel good all under!'? Well, when they legalize pot, they can have an ad for it, 'I feel numb all over!'!"
"You're speaking, of course," the host began in his obnoxious hoity-toity attitude, "Of decriminalizing marijuana--lowering the penalty, as it were, for people who rarely smoke it, such as I. Correct?"
"I'm talking about legalizing it, so farmers around the world can grow it and maybe, with the whole planet working on it, we could actually reverse the Greenhouse Effect."
"Why would the whole world follow our example?"
"Why wouldn't they? They did when our government outlawed it in nineteen-thirty-seven, Babs."
"They're not goink to legalize weed!" Barbra snapped.
"Of course, they will! It's stupid of the government not to!"
"How do you figure that?"
"Although in reality, marijuana is an herb the general opinion is that it's a narcotic and as such, it would be taxed and regulated the same as alcohol and tobacco. The government would make a helluva lot of money, Michigan's prisons wouldn't be so overcrowded (you know Michigan is referred to as 'the prison state'), and everybody would be happier!"
"I think you live in a fantasy world induced by..." the host choked on his hit, then continued, "Induced by dope!"
"What? What did you say?" I snapped out of my stupor.
"I said they're not goink to legalize reefer."
"No, before that. Something about a 'fantasy world'."
"Oh, I don't know! I do know, howevah, that they're not goink to make weed legal!" I sat back on the couch and eyed Barbra suspiciously. "I'll go check on dinner." Once again, Babs rose and swept out of the room and I leaned over to the drag queen next to me.
"Did you catch that crack about 'fantasy world'?"
"How could I help but hear? I'm sure it was simply an odd coincidence, though," Rose attempted to soothe me, but I was unsoothable.
"Bullshit! I say we dump the old hag at some rest stop area between here and Saginaw! At least she'd have some fun before someone beat the hell out of her!"
"She's just drunk!"
"I don't care! If she's rude to me, I'll kick her ass! She will have a crutch upside her head!"
"Calm down! She'll hear you!"
"So what?" I continued to whisper, "The cheap bitch is so against pot, but she sure smokes enough of mine!"
"Take a Percodan or Valium or something, but mellow out and be quiet!"
"Now wot are you Goils gossipink about?" Babs had once again entered the room without being heard and the surprise was plainly evident on our faces. "Whenevah we three get togethah, I always think the two of you are up to somethink, maybe. Gangink up on me, even?"
"What? Oh. I...uh...let's see now. Oh! Oh, yes! I was telling Ginger about my new diet! Diet! Yes, yes, yes! That's it! I detest this new diet!"
Rose was caught off guard and his spluttering speech proved it. He smiled nervously and softly clapped his pudgy, jewel-encrusted hands together.
"If you loathe it so much, why are you smiling and clapping like Ginger?" Babs questioned and it seemed like a very valid one at that.
"Positive attitude. You see, Barbara, for the diet to really work, you've got to have a positive attitude."
"If you hate the diet so much, how can you possibly have a positive attitude?"
"Because I'm positive I hate it! See? I feel thinner already!"
"Have you heard of the Atkins Diet, Rose? With the Atkins Diet, your body tricks you into losink weight."
"My body is obviously tired of practical jokes, Barbra! Let's eat!"
Our host set down the huge silver tray he'd been holding during the exchange and said, "I didn't know about your new diet, Rose. I hope you can have chicken."
"Oh, yes! It's a seafood diet, actually."
"Yeah, I see food, I eat it!" Rose laughed uproariously, perhaps a little too much so, as Babs and I looked on with quizzical expressions.
"Rose Dahlink, I think weed affects you in a very peculiar way, sometimes. You're not makink any sense!"
"So what's your point, Barbra? Aren't there enough people in the world making sense without me having to fucking do it, too?"
"Rose! Your mouth! You and your potty mouth and toilet talk! You're so vulgar! Why, if you were my child..."
"I'd be about the same age I am right now!"
Without another word, the host proceeded to serve the meal, which, even to Rose Elliott's critical eye, looked like a photograph from Cuisine magazine. On the tray were three gold napkin rings holding peach linen serviettes, gold flatware, two Minton china luncheon plates and a larger matching dinner plate.
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