Originally written 11/30/14
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley, https://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/2239200286/in/photostream/
All photos from Flickr used in accordance with the Creative Commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode
I recently attended a business meeting in Tempe, Arizona. Meetings aren’t my favorite thing in the world, since I’m generally an action-oriented person rather than a discussion-oriented person, but this meeting went so quickly that we ended at lunchtime. Hooray!
Photo credit: Petr Dosek, “Boredom,” https://www.flickr.com/photos/pedrosek/9655654051
See the guy on the right? That’s how meetings make me feel.
Unfortunately, I still had to go to a reception later that night, and receptions are one of the few things lower than meetings on my List of Enjoyable Ways to Spend My Time. As a shy, introverted, action-oriented non-drinker, standing around for hours drinking and talking to people is pretty much my idea of hell.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mdgovpics/13087109093
If I’m bad in this life, this is how I will have to spend eternity.
However, being a responsible adult means sometimes doing things you’re not excited about, and I started mentally gearing myself up for the evening’s reception when our group’s president began telling us about it at the end of the meeting.
“The reception will be up here, in this room, from eight to ten tonight,” she said. “There will be a cash bar, a DJ, and a dance floor.”
I laughed at that. Nobody ever dances at our receptions, which is kind of ironic, considering that we’re all dance teachers.
Photo credit: Martyn Wright, https://www.flickr.com/photos/martyn404/5198020426
This is what the dance floor usually looks like.
But the president wasn’t finished. “We’ll then have entertainment at ten. Adult entertainment. If you don’t like that kind of thing, leave before ten.”
My ears perked up. Adult entertainment? What?? There is not usually entertainment of any kind at our receptions, let alone anything that could be classified as “adult” except drinking.
I waited for the president to explain, but she didn’t. She just went on briskly to the next order of business, in the same tone in which she’d told us about the reception.
The meeting was adjourned a few minutes later, and we all went to lunch. I sat down with my co-teacher Mary and some other teachers we knew, and while we were eating, one of the other teachers brought up what the president had said about the reception.
“She was joking, right?” the other teacher asked, and there were nods around the table. She had to be joking, because A) we never had entertainment, and B) we DEFINITELY never had “adult” entertainment.
But I’ve known the president for a long time, and she hadn’t sounded like she was kidding to me. She’d sounded serious. I said so, and the other teachers looked at me, frowning.
“But if she wasn’t joking,” the first teacher said, “what kind of entertainment could it be?”
Nobody had a good answer to that. “Stripper” is the first thing that popped into my mind as “adult entertainment,” but our group has both men and women in it, and watching a stripper didn’t seem like a fun co-ed activity. It also didn’t seem particularly appropriate for a Thursday night in Tempe, Arizona, especially since all of us would be coaching elementary-aged kids in a dance competition starting at 7 a.m. the next morning.
Photo credit: Raquel Baranow, https://www.flickr.com/photos/666_is_money/5533610454
This is the only kind of stripper I’d expect to see anywhere near our reception.
What else could it be?
I couldn’t think of anything, but my curiosity was definitely piqued. I had been tentatively planning on showing up to the reception right at eight, talking briefly to everybody I knew, and then bolting at nine, but the president’s announcement changed all that. Now I was going to arrive at nine-thirty and stay until the end. There was no way I was going to miss finding out what the entertainment was. Even if I hated it, I was betting I could get a blog post out of it.
So at nine-thirty that night, Mary and I headed over to the reception, where I picked up a mineral water at the bar and said hello to some of the people I knew. The party was loud, with the DJ playing music at ear-popping decibels next to a predictably empty dance floor and everybody shouting to be heard above the music.
The dance floor was made of slick, cream-colored ceramic tiles, and there were tiny tables with white tablecloths standing along the front of it like a cabaret. Nobody was sitting at the very front tables, but all of the judges for the weekend’s competition were at a table in the back corner, and one of the grand dames of our organization, a venerable, white-haired lady in her eighties, was sitting with some friends near the middle.
Mary and I snagged a front table so we could be sure to see…whatever was about to happen. When the president passed our table, I asked her, “So, what’s the entertainment?”
“A drag show,” she said.
Photo credit: David Van Horn, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dvanhorn/876933210
I don’t know what my face looked like, but whatever my expression was, it made her grin and ask, “Is this your first drag show?”
Actually, it wasn’t (probably to her surprise). I choreographed some routines for a group of drag queens many years ago, and I ended up performing with them a couple times. Talk about one of the most unusual experiences of my life. I’m saving that story for my memoirs.
Anyway, wild horses could not have pulled me from my seat. I had been trying to decide what to do for my next adventure, and here was an adventure dropped in my lap, so to speak. I hoped it wasn’t going to literally drop in my lap, since drag queens aren’t exactly shy and Mary and I were the only people in the front row. Everyone else was sitting or standing a prudent distance away. Well, maybe if anything embarrassing happened nobody would remember.
The music stopped, and in the silence the DJ announced the first performer. I think her name was Taylor, although since the DJ shouted her name in a dramatic way (kind of like at a professional wrestling match), it might have been something completely different.
If you’ve never seen a drag queen before, you might imagine that it would be short, androgynous guys who went in for female impersonation–you know, guys who might be able to pass as women. Nope! It’s pretty much the opposite. Drag queens tend to be tall and strong, so once you add the big hair and the super high heels, you’ve got a woman that even the Amazons would be jealous of.
Photo credit: Eric Ward, “Wonder Woman,” https://www.flickr.com/photos/a4gpa/520957740
Disclaimer: I want to state for the record, in case the lady in the picture ever sees this blog post, that the above picture is a real woman, not a drag queen. I went looking for a picture of an Amazon to stick here and found this, and I loved it so much I had to use it. That is all.
Taylor was no exception. She was well over six feet in her black platform stilettos, and the feather-trimmed gauzy robe she was wearing must have come from a specialty store, because on anybody else it would have trailed along the ground behind her like a wedding dress. Her face was smooth and dark, with wide lips painted cherry red, and the false eyelashes she was wearing looked as long as my pinky finger.
She came out and lip synced to “Bang Bang” by Jessie J. Watching her dance in her extremely high heels on the slippery-looking tiles, I wondered if breaking ankles was an occupational hazard for drag queens. Taylor certainly didn’t seem worried about it. She strode around the floor with energy and attitude, taking off her gauzy robe to reveal fishnet stockings and shorts so short that it looked like she’d shoehorned herself into them.
When she took off her denim bustier to show us a bra decorated with gigantic sparkly rhinestones, I began to worry that we’d gotten a drag show PLUS a stripper, which was more adventure than I’d bargained for. But the sparkly bra and short shorts stayed on (thank goodness) while Taylor jumped into the splits for the big finale of her number. I can’t do splits at all, let alone jump into them on a slippery tile floor while wearing six-inch spike heels, so I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open. Taylor rewarded me by taking off a fake-fur belt and rubbing my cheeks with it before dropping it on the table.
Oh, boy. I hoped I wasn’t going to regret sitting in the front row.
When Taylor had first walked out, she looked like a black woman. Now, with her arms and midriff bare, she was obviously a white man, which was kind of startling. Up close, it looked like she had had some plastic surgery done, too, especially on her poofy, Angelina Jolie-style lips.
Photo credit: S Pakhrin, https://www.flickr.com/photos/kathmandu/15568130458
This is not Taylor. I stupidly did not take any pictures until the very end, so you get this random picture instead.
She took the microphone from the DJ and introduced herself as the oldest drag queen in Arizona (forty-two—good grief), and began a between-number patter that was liberally peppered with cuss words (which I will leave out). “Holler if you’re from New York!” she shouted, and when nobody shouted, she said, “Holler if you’re from Ohio!” Receiving no response, she went through another dozen or so states, and, by bad luck, just happened to miss all the states our group was from.
Putting one hand on her hip, she looked around at all of us as though puzzled and said, “Where are y’all from, then? Mars?” Except, you know, with a lot of profanity thrown in.
Brushing her blond, ombre-style wig away from her face with dagger-like fake nails, she said, “I want to tell you a little secret about our next performer.” She paused for effect, glancing around the room. “He’s a man.” There were a couple laughs, since we’d already figured that out. “And really, really tall. And absolutely GORGEOUS. Here’s SIZZLE LAMOUR!”
Sizzle Lamour (who had the best name of the night) was very tall, topping Taylor by several inches. And she was gorgeous, unlike Taylor, who up close looked like a sixty-year-old trophy wife who’d visited the plastic surgeon one too many times. She lip-synced in a bright red negligee trimmed with feathers, after which Taylor came back and MC’d for a few minutes before introducing the next performer, Mechelle.
Mechelle lip-synced to “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift, wearing a long blond wig, a lacy turquoise leotard, and white go-go boots. From a distance, her makeup was amazing, but when she danced closer we could see that the makeup had been designed for cabaret-style stage lights rather than the fluorescent strip lighting of the room we were in. Up close under the fluorescents, the stage makeup made Mechelle look a little like zombie Taylor Swift. It kind of freaked Mary out.
Photo credit: S Pakhrin, https://www.flickr.com/photos/kathmandu/15755178162
Okay, maybe it wasn’t THIS scary.
The fourth and last performer was named Justice, and she was the most interesting of all. We found out later that she used to be our president’s dance student, which is how the show had come about. She was young, probably in her early twenties, and her hair and makeup were much more natural-looking than Taylor’s or Mechelle’s. Unlike the others, she actually sang live rather than lip-syncing, in a beautiful alto. In her gold sequined cocktail dress, she looked like a headliner at a nightclub–a very pretty, very tall headliner.
All four performers came back out for a second number each. Except for Justice, who stood at the front of the room to sing, they all interacted pretty wildly with the audience, and if you seemed embarrassed at all they would just be more outrageous. The only safe thing to do was play along. Taylor ended up having a dance competition with a guy at the back of the room, which ended when Taylor, high heels and all, did a cartwheel into the splits. Sizzle Lamour stopped to ask the eighty-year-old grand dame what her name was, and she replied (God bless her), “Depends who’s asking!”
(On her way back to the front of the room, Sizzle Lamour paused next to me and said, “Doesn’t she look just like Queen Elizabeth? I love her!”).
Photo credit: S Pakhrin, https://www.flickr.com/photos/kathmandu/15568737310
I think she meant the OTHER Queen Elizabeth.
Mary and I shimmied, clapped, hooted and hollered when the performers came near our table. We were having a great time. It was the best reception ever.
After the show was over, the performers came back out to take a bow, and they said they were available for pictures if anybody wanted one. Well, of course we wanted a picture, so we asked Sizzle Lamour if she would pose with us. Mechelle took the pictures with Mary’s phone, and she was one of the funniest phone photographers I’ve ever met. She was extremely serious, frowning with concentration as she hit the button, and after each picture she would stop, look at the picture, and then shake her head with slow sadness, like the picture was a huge disappointment in her life.
Finally, after the fifth one, she nodded slowly instead. Success!
Then Mechelle, Sizzle Lamour, Taylor, and Justice all stepped forward to pose with us, handing Mary’s phone to someone else to take the picture.
Okay–here are the real performers. Finally.
“Thank you very much!” I said, looking up at them and feeling very short.
“Thank YOU for enjoying our show so much!” said Mechelle.
And that made me feel good. I’m a performer myself, and I know what a great feeling it is when someone obviously appreciates your show.
Mechelle and her friends apparently weren’t the only ones who noticed that Mary and I were having a good time. The next morning, my mom texted me to let me know that the president had told her that I’d really enjoyed the entertainment at the reception, wink wink—which puzzled my mom, since she hadn’t been there and didn’t know what the entertainment had been.
But my favorite moment was at the very end, when Mary and I were getting ready to go. One of the other teachers who follows me on Facebook came over and put her arm around my neck.
“I know what you’re going to do!” she said, laughing. “You’re going to blog about this!”
Yep, that’s right! Wouldn’t miss it for the world.