Circus showgirls ride the same elephant until one of them dies or retires to Sarasota. Or until one of them puts together a hula hoop act and moves to Vegas. In this case the showgirl was my step-mother. She landed a spicy gig at The Desert Inn and she and my dad left the circus. I spent the next summer with them as usual, but this time I didn’t have cotton candy for breakfast. I played keno at the local diner. And won – hooray!
The show also featured a vaudevillian comedian and a handsome contortionist named Rudy, but the real stars of the show were two fabulous six-foot tall drag queens flawlessly impersonating Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and Marilyn Monroe. You know who can compete with that? File under: no one.
Those guys were ah may zing. When I wasn’t gambling at breakfast or floating around the pool in a bright yellow bikini daydreaming about Rudy, I was backstage at the casino clocking every move they made. Like you do at 13.
I studied their impeccable eye-shadow and marveled at their enormous acrylic high heels. The 40-pound ball gowns and slinky costumes were stunning works of art. They hit every mark and nailed every wink and perfectly timed air kiss. I loved the glamor and over-the-topness of it all. Right there in the epicenter of cheap sirloin and regret I was introduced to the magic of musicals. I’ve been a card-carrying gay-boy fan ever since.
I memorized the lyrics and dance moves of each performance. My favorites were “Willkommen” and “The Money Song” from Cabaret, “Kiss Today Good-bye” and “One” from A Chorus Line, “People” and “Don’t Rain on my Parade” from Funny Girl, and of course “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The following school year I spent hours dancing around my room wearing a face full of drag queen make-up singing along with the shitty cassette I’d made backstage.
I only spent that one summer with those two masters of illusion, but the impression they made on my world is everlasting. Thanks to them I can still sing every word to the Broadway show tunes they performed, and yes I belt that shit out in the car because I have it all downloaded, trust. I also have a passionate appreciation for production, costume and make-up design, and fashion. I no longer remember their names, but they are two of my greatest childhood treasures.
Who else but a couple of giant drag queens will teach you what you really need to know? Frosted pink lipstick is always genius, glitter is more important than a driver’s license, and feather boas are always a yes yes yes, honey.