Boro of Queens: L'Enfemme Revue
by Tanya Mazurek
Barry straightened his tie in the mirror as he reflected on the events of the last few days, weeks and month. He had evolved from a frightened 17 year old who wasn't even sure of his own identity to an 18 year old who was even less sure of his/her own identity. He sighed as he combed his now out of control hair and use a cream to comb his hair back into an unflattering young version of an old-guy look. Someone at school commented, "Barry, the wethead look is dead." Barry thought, better to be thought of as a dufus than a faggot. It was June 1967 and things were changing in world, however, teenagers always want to fit in and not be ridiculed.
And there it was. Underneath it all, Barry knew that one of his biggest fears was being humiliated. Why? Somehow, when Kitty paid a visit, it was okay and, in fact, a cause for celebration. But if Kitty and Barry were ever to be in the same room together…OMG! Hey, wait, Barry realized, I AM Kitty. He felt a sense of empowerment as he realized that HE had control of Kitty and of her future. Yet, as he got ready for his graduation from Jamaica High, he sensed a long and confusing journey lay ahead of him. Was he truly a faggot? A fairy? A Drag Queen? Or was he a transvestite who underneath it all was searching for his identity? Or maybe something else…….
He put those thoughts out of his mind as he remembered with a sigh the frantic phone calls until he confirmed that all he had to do was sign up at Queens College and they would assist in the necessary paperwork to give him a college deferment for the Draft. He had very good grades, Queens College was free except for books and he was told that as long as he took a minimum full load of courses, he could defer for six years. Maybe the draft will be over in six years.
The phone rang and the familiar voice of Rhonda greeted him with, "Where the hell did you disappear to?" No hello, how are you…no social niceties, just New York right to the point. Barry, ever the live wire, sputtered, "errr, well, it was late and you guys ditched me so I thought….." Rhonda cut him off, "you had us worried and than miffed that you would just leave like that." Barry could have said a lot of things, like the fact that Leslie deserted him, like no one was around…but he chose to keep quiet as Rhonda can be overbearing when doing her cranky Brooklyn thing. She added, "Monte was expecting to see you. He was very disappointed."
Barry had gone to the Village to a really hip party as Kitty last week and had to admit that Kitty was the Belle of the Ball (Barry, of course, wasn't sure if he was proud or jealous of that). He found out that Leslie and her drag queen friends could be bitches and he knew that Kitty was not like them. Anyway, it made him nervous to be speaking to Rhonda about Kitty and drag with his mom in the other room. Good thing that he had a totally private line, he thought.
Rhonda asked, "Can you be here tonight to discuss a job possibility?" The boy replied without thinking, "Where is here?" Rhonda sighed as if Barry should have known, "Sandy's Beauty Salon?" Barry thought, they want me to work at a beauty parlor? I don't know a thing about that stuff. I can barely dress myself as Kitty. However, he only replied, "Rhonda, I am going somewhere tonight." Rhonda laughed, "Oh yeah, Grad Night. Want to dress as Kitty?" Barry just grimaced and never replied.
Finally, after an awkward silence, Barry, murmured, "I'll be over Sandy's around 4 or 5 on Thursday." Rhonda agreed and Barry went back to preparing for his Graduation. He didn't look all that bad, but the glasses that hid his tweezed eyebrows, the purposely slightly dirty fingernails to minimize the feminine look of his hands and the grease in his hair (with a few strategically placed bobby pins along with a very loose and frumpy dark suit sent a message of complete ho-hum anonymity. Barry was graduating Jamaica High School as the consummate loner who traded his teenage years of friendship and social interaction, for years of secret dress-up. He considered it a fair trade as Kitty was slowly asserting herself.
The graduation was well attended by students and family. Most had a huge family presence. Barry's mom was there, but his other relatives had to take out the garbage or watch TV or whatever. And so only his mother was there to hear the valedictorian denounce the Asian War. Boos started as she spoke mixed with applause. It seemed as if half the people there were for and half were against the War. The scene was kind of chaotic (it was clear which side the school security force was on). The students were torn, the families were torn and the country was divided, unsure of itself, much like Barry/Kitty…torn and unsure of the future. About the only thing good that came out of it was Barry's sense that based on how everyone else looked, longish hair was in; just keep it scraggly and dirty and he would fit in and look cool and more important, unnoticed. He and his mom had a lonely dinner afterwards at HoJo's. He had heard about a dozen parties that night, none of which he had been invited to.
His mom, a bookkeeper was off to work on Thursday as usual and Barry told her that he would be looking for a summer job (again); they were hard to come by. As soon as you said college, people did not want to hire for just a couple of months. His mom was very shy and quiet and just seemed to want to hang out with her sisters (when she could); she worked for an accountant and never had much to say about anything. Barry had memories that she and his now deceased father tried to discourage him from dressing up in women's clothing as a little boy, but it was never discussed. She was very tired all the time and seemed sad all the time and never wore makeup except when going to work and then she used too much red lipstick, too much rouge (yuck!) and had no sense of fashion or style. Barry knew that guys don't tell their moms how to dress or use makeup and so they were more cordial than loving and caring. Barry reflected that Kitty had probably kissed more people last week in the Village at the party than his mom probably had in her entire life.
Barry arrived at 4:30 on Thursday at Sandy's and tried to be nonchalant. It's hard to look cool entering a beauty Salon. This time the place was very busy with every chair or station occupied. There were women everywhere and about half the beauticians were men…kind of. The guys were chattering away in a form of exaggerated femininity. One male beautician, wearing a ladies smock, when up to a cabinet and exclaimed "What no Red Flame!?" and went back to his customer chattering apologetically. Out of the crowd, Rhonda came over, grabbed Barry by the hand and brought him in back to a quiet office.
Monte was sitting at a chair filling out paperwork and Maria who had arranged the original makeover, glanced up and only said "Ciao, dear." Barry just nodded, as Barry is always in guy mode. Monte looked up and commented, "You amaze me. I never would have guessed that you were that angel, Kitty." Barry, not knowing if that was a compliment or an insult, chose to not comment. Monte went on, "Would you like a job?"
Barry kind of nodded in the sullen way that teens do and Monte, unfazed added, "You impressed us all at the party. People are still talking." Barry, finally decided to speak up, "I have never taken any beauty courses and I don't think that I would fit in here." There he said it and it was over. HARDLY, it was just beginning……
Monte laughed the kind of laugh that is either very good or very bad, "You thought that we wanted a beautician or a manicurist." Monte just kept laughing heartily. Rhonda even giggled but it was more low-key and compassionate. "No, honey, we need a hostess for the Boom-Boom Room and we need one now. For L'En Femme Revue" She said softly. "I only called you here because Monte still has a following in this Salon and works here on occasion. And it was convenient for you" Monte nodded and added, "We opened the Boom-Boom Room and it is like the Club Purple only here in Flushing. We have a Drag Show Friday and Saturday Nights. Mixed crowd, dear. We see all kinds." Barry was taken aback, "I don't thing I can sing or dance", Barry whispered (or be very funny, he thought). Barry had visions of Kitty trying to do a strip tease and it was not very pretty as it played out in his head. Monte, who had stop laughing, started to howl with laughter (again).
"Princess, I have all the dancers and singers and comedians and strippers I need from the Village. I need someone sweet and adorable to greet customers, seat them, take there drink orders and flirt. I need someone who won't offend the women, won't make the men nervous and the cops close the place down. In short, I need Kitty." Not me, Barry thought, always Kitty. "What will she have to do?" asked Barry. "Honey, I just told you," commented Barry and looked at him very differently than he ever looked at Kitty. Then Barry realized that he referred to Kitty as "she" (the third person) and almost died hoping that no one noticed or thought he did that on purpose.
Monte turned very serious, "The pay is minimum wage. However, we share all tips and no matter how much you collect, you share. We divide the pool at the end of the weekend including the bartenders, performers, everyone. There is a formula that we use. And, oh yes, you may have a costume allowance." Hey, thought Barry, I am not a performer, why a costume allowance? Rhonda quietly chimed in, "you will need a Caberet License. Now that you are 18, that will be no problem." Barry just looked at her and she sensed that he didn't know what she was talking about. "Bring your Birth Certificate to the Hall of Records and we'll get you a temp card tomorrow. A Caberet License will allow you to perform in clubs and bars like the Boom-Boom Room and travel to and from home without being hassled by the cops. You know, it is illegal to dress like a woman in public. It's not enforced unless the cops want to, but most will try to get you on lewd conduct charges."
The whole thing was starting to weird Barry out. Monte offered Kitty a job as a hostess, but Barry needs a Caberet License just to stay out of jail. He shares all his tips and is obligated to be at a club in Flushing that features drag at least every Friday and Saturday Night as Kitty. Wait, he didn't have a job and he could work a couple weeks and if it didn't work out, he could just leave. Kitty was screaming for attention inside Barry's soul. "Take the job!" she cried. Barry realized that this was one of those moments that his decision could change things for him forever. What if he doesn't? Then he finds a job at a Pizza Parlor at $1.75 per hour and goes home and puts on his secret girls' stuff in total privacy for a whole summer until school starts. If he takes the job, what if he is found out? What if the police arrest him? What if Kitty isn't so loved and Barry/Kitty is fired?
He quietly turned to Rhonda, who clearly was giving him some space on this one, "I'll see you tomorrow at the Hall of Records at 10 AM." Monte went back to his paperwork and Rhonda walked Barry to the door and before he could leave, she pulled him close and gave him powerful hug. It felt good to the boy.
They met at the Hall of Records on Friday at 10. Rhonda, looking like a Math teacher had clearly dressed down for the occasion. Barry was in his drab guy mode as they went up to the clerk. Rhonda, identifying herself as Barry's maternal aunt, acted like a chatterbox. The clerk was a New York clerk and, by nature, cranky and abrupt. Rhonda knew what she was doing. The clerk kept asking questions as she typed the temp license and Rhonda just kept yakking away. Finally, the clerk came to the part where Barry had to identify his performance skill and Rhonda blurted out "actor/dancer." Barry nodded but looked down. The clerk frowned and asked Barry to take a picture for the ID. ID???? Barry realized for the first time that this was an official document, would be on record and OMG!!! He started to panic a bit, but Rhonda kept things moving. Barry took a nondescript picture that was as unflattering in a photo machine at the Hall of Records for $2 and the permanent card was to be mailed to him in two to four weeks. He made a mental note to check the mail everyday while his mother was at work.
Barry went home and rested. He ate early and left a note for his mom that he would be out with friends. Hah! He had no real friends and very few solid acquaintances. He knew that no one except his mom was wondering where he would be that Friday night. He took a bus to the Boom-Boom Room in Flushing arriving around 6 and all the way wondered how much a cab ride home would cost and if he would make enough to money to cover this expense. He also was getting nervous as he realized that every customer, every employee, every cop would think of him as a Drag Queen. He could see his reflection on the bus window…what exactly was he? Where was this all going? Why was Kitty so popular? He had trouble understanding her popularity. He could feel her stirring inside and his heart flutter.
Barry arrived at the Bar on Northern Boulevard that from the outside was plain and kind of uninviting. A small, cheap sign said "Boom-Boom Lounge" and an even smaller sign said "live entertainment every Friday and Saturday Night." Hardly, the Copa thought the boy. He walked in and the smell of stale alcohol and cigarettes was thick. The bar stools were on the bar and the chairs were stacked on the tables The sign said that capacity was 280 but Barry thought that it would be hard to get 28 people to show up at this joint. He had been in a few bars before that time in the Village and this one was old, drab and dark like the others.
The bartender, later identified as Eddie, looked up and said a not too friendly, "Yeah…?" Ah, New York, thought Barry. "Monte sent me. I am Kitty." The boy dreaded saying that. He was told to by Rhonda and cringed inside as Barry for the first time, in public, to a perfect stranger (and a probably old straight guy to boot) called himself Kitty while dressed as Barry. Before he could think any further, Eddie the bartender, kind of smiled and sneered, "No shit, well they are expecting you in the back." And with that Eddie looked back down and went back to doing whatever bartenders do to get ready for the evening.
Rhonda was already there and introduced Kitty to the "girls." There was an emcee, kind of like a thin Monte and dressed like a guy, putting on rouge (kind of like his mom, laughed Barry to himself); two smallish guys who were getting dressed kind of like showgirls in feathery costumes and chattering away in kind of falsetto voices, a good sized man, getting into a cocktail dress who looked up and gave a very kind smile and a rather aloof, thin, tall boy who was smoking a cigarette and had a drink in his hand. A costume hung on the nails that constituted his "dressing room." He apparently was the "stripper."
The body English from the performers was one of ho-hum. Only the big guy putting on the cocktail dress was even friendly. Rhonda, ignoring all of that, started helping Barry dress quickly. She admonished, "You must learn to do this quickly and be organized. Come as early as you have to at first, but if you are late, there will be hell to pay…" Barry, used to a slow ritual in private to make the transition from Barry to Kitty was stressed out. He had trouble changing into Kitty in front of strangers and the fact that they were so unfriendly, made it worse. Finally, Rhonda, aware of the strain on Barry's nerves, suggested that they go to the back office for privacy. It was dirty and cluttered but private and that helped a lot.
Kitty emerged about 1 hour later. It occurred to Barry as Rhonda was assisting him, that he was getting better at this. Rhonda was taking much too much of her time away from the Salon and he needed to learn how to dress for his new job and to learn to take care of himself. No one asked him where he was from and he was not about to say, "Hi I'm Barry Loman who just graduated from Jamaica HS, what is your name?" Rhonda advised him to use only the name Kitty even when in guy mode. As they were entering the bar area, it was still too early for customers and Rhonda wanted Eddie to work with Kitty a bit and learn to work together. Before they entered, Rhonda slipped Kitty a pack of Newports and a flask of Genuine Kentucky Whiskey. "For good luck, she whispered."
Eddie seemed stunned as he looked up. In the dim light of the bar, Kitty looking even more smashing. Rhonda had arched her eyebrows a bit more, filled out her lips a bit more and her hair was expertly teased with the same fall used at the party the week before in the Village. She had sparkling blue friendly eyes that seemed to dance and a model-like figure. "You aren't the little kid who walked in before, are you? Cripes!" Kitty just smiled; talk as little as possible, appear sweet and kind and caring and don't rise to the bait, if the bitches in the show start catty crap, Kitty told herself. "Eddie, may I present Kitty Karr", Rhonda said with an air of formality. Kitty hated the name, but Monte said a last name was needed. Most of the "girls" in the show used androgynous names such as Terry, Dana, Leslie, even Candy, however, Kitty refused to change her first name. After some wrangling, Rhonda had agreed that the "stage name" was Kitty Karr and that was it. It was time for Rhonda to leave. She kissed Kitty of the right ear and whisper softly, "Knock 'em dead, honey." And turned and walked out the door without looking back.
Clearly, Eddie kind of took to Kitty. She was a bit shy but adorable. She really didn't know why it always seemed to work, but it did. One of the diminutive "little guy" showgirls came over to the bar for a glass of water. Eddie filled a pitcher for her to take back to the dressing room. The showgirl was wearing fishnet stockings, a two-piece golden glittery outfit and had her costume untied and down at the waist revealing an obviously shaved chest and a cranky disposition. She turned to Kitty and barked, " Pocket anything for yourself and you'll regret it." That was it Her first words. Kitty didn't flinch. She just nodded seriously but added, "May I help you with that pitcher?" Surprised by the offer of help, the "girl" shook her head quickly, grabbed the pitcher and disappeared back in the dressing room area. Eddie commented, "They take the pitcher of water and make there own whiskey and water drinks. Monte and Rhonda charge them for drinking at the bar." Rhonda?? Rhonda owns this bar? Barry concluded that he didn't know much about the relationship between Rhonda and Monte or Leslie and Rhonda or what was really happening.
Kitty was wearing an Asian style dress with a slit on the right side and low heels. It was a silk, ¾ length sleeve dress with a beige and black Asian design. The neck was high but highlighted the chest area. Rhonda had brought it over and said that the following week, Kitty needed a wardrobe. It was obvious that Kitty had a small waist and to highlight the overall look, Rhonda had purchased a padded rear panty girdle for her. It made her butt puff out a bit and made her wiggle a bit more as she walked. Kitty knew never to wear fishnet stocking as it looked a bit sleazy and her image was too sugary. Besides, fishnet stockings tended to make her shapely thin legs look scrawny. Clear and seamless nylons.
Seven thirty came and went and the place was still empty except for a couple of guys who seemed familiar with Eddie and sat at the bar. Kitty was standing near the entrance to the door area and was instructed to greet and seat the first few guests. It was her responsibility to try and shuffle between seating new customers and getting drinks for the tables and to keep track of bar tabs. Eddie said that he double checks anyway and in the off chance that it really gets busy, he will find a way to keep it moving. Eddie expected as many as many as 8 of the 12 tables max to be occupied at the time of the 9 PM show and as many as 6 of the tables to be occupied at the time of the 11 PM show. Kitty did not have to worry about the customers seated or standing at the bar. Anyway, the 9 PM show never started until 930 and the 11 PM show started whenever the emcee sensed he needed to keep the crowd drinking. There was no cover charge so this was all about charging for drinks.
Kitty checked her makeup and went over to say hi to the guys with Eddie (practice, practice, practice, she thought). One of the guys gushed, "Hey doll, you in da show?" Mr. Cool, thought Kitty. She smiled and said, "No, I am a hostess." Well, you can host me anytime, dollface." The man guffawed and his friend grinned like a clown. Kitty kept a demure smile, looked down and shyly touched his elbow, "Oh you guys." And walked away. About ten minutes later, Eddie, pretending to spot and wipe something off the bar, came over to Kitty and told her that one of the "regulars" that she had just kidded with, want to know why they had hired a girl instead of a drag queen as the hostess this week. Kitty, realizing that this was meant as a big compliment, told Eddie to tell the guy that he was just the cutest. (Barry deep down couldn't believe that Kitty would flirt like that with that old guy). She watched his reaction as Eddie went back to talk to the guy at the bar who just went wild and offered to buy Kitty a drink. She was always told to say yes to all drinks. Eddie filled the glass with colored water, charged the guy $4 and handed the drink to Kitty who held it high and toasted the "charmer" who bought the drink as well as Eddie as well as her new job. Eddie just looked at her in the dark and Kitty could sense that she had another fish on the hook.
Suddenly, as if they had planned it, people started to come in. Kitty chatted amiably and softly with a loud group from Corona who insisted on a table for 10 when they were only a party of 6. The guy who acted like he was in charge was bragging to his friends about the "fag show". He went on to call it the "La Faggo Revue" You scuzbucket thought Kitty, its' " L'En Femme Revue" and take your 350 pound belly and shove it. Instead, she softly giggled and the group smiled back. Others had arrived at the door and Kitty realized that she was really working hard moving from greeter to order taker to the bar, take the drinks back and be a cashier. She learned quickly to slowly count the money and give the customer every opportunity to make the tip large. Smile, giggle, act demure, be sweet, count the change correctly, answer stupid question (ie, is everyone in this show a guy?) to lying on other questions (ie, the show is about to start in 10 minutes, yeah right).
Kitty apparently did something that Eddie had never seen a hostess around the club do. She made people laugh, smile, and kept them coming back for more drinks, if only to chat with Kitty when she took their order. Customers, as they left, came up to her and thanked her for a marvelous evening. The show itself was okay. The dancers were okay but not as good as the Club Purple and the emcee was funny (he did gay jokes all night) but you could tell that he has done the same jokes hundreds of times before. The stripper was an accomplished dancer who really got the guys going. At the very end, he ripped off the Bra portion of his costume and held it high along with is wig. And the big guy in the cocktail dress was a pretty good singer who could shift from a really nice contralto feminine singing voice to a man's singing voice almost instantaneously. Kitty noticed that many of the customers liked to joke and kid and flirt with Kitty and at least a few women moved to kiss her on the cheek as they left thanking her. She wasn't counting (never count while there are customers she was told) but the tips kept coming.
One group of 10 were obviously long married 5 couples. One of the guys came up to her and grabbed Kitty's hand and moved to dance with her on the dance floor. Kitty wasn't sure about the rules or if that was even legal. She smiled and decided what the heck and danced with the guy. He moved real close and commented on how beautiful her perfume was. Kitty sensing that this was headed for trouble, pulled away gently and told him in as sweet and feminine a voice as possible, that she needed to order more drinks. He seemed both very drunk and very disappointed, but she knew instinctively that no wife would want her husband dancing with Kitty in such a close way. When she reached the bar, Eddie gave her the drinks to serve and as it was noisy and a show was going on, he just winked. Kitty smiled her trademark smile.
The place emptied out about 1 AM and as things got quiet by 1:30, Eddie, all the while cleaning up, said to Kitty, "You did good, kid. I promised Rhonda that I would look after you. You don't need no looking after. Hey, how about a ride home?" He quickly added, "don't you worry about me, I'm a married guy." At that very moment, the big singer with the great and unusual voice came up to chat. He introduced himself as Toni Belinda. Then he laughed, "but you can call me Stu." Kitty was still Kitty and Stu quickly realized that Kitty took this part of her persona seriously. He smiled and added, "Wanna get some coffee?" He then went back to change as the door were locked and the chairs turned up for the janitor. Eddie said, "hey, if you are going to get a ride home with any of them, Stu is ok. He is a little light in the loafers but an ok guy." Realizing that he was talking to a boy not Kitty, Eddie seemed sorry that he had used the "light in the loafers" crack. Kitty, as always, let him off the hook with a smile. He smiled a genuine warm smile back. They all do, she thought…why?
"Better clean up fast and let's roll, kid", said Stu as he came back downing a quick cup of instant coffee. "They'll want to lock up by two, ready or not." Holy cow, thought Kitty, no time to wait, gotta wash up and change in 30 minutes! Kitty ran into the "dressing room, and washed quickly and dressed in twenty-five minutes. Barry just appeared; no slow ritual; no time to adjust; no thorough wash and clean-up; just splash, splash and back into the now almost deserted bar. Stu looked at his watch impatiently. He glanced up and did a double take; at first, he didn't recognize Barry with his satchel.
Barry walked out and jumped in Stu's 1964 Chevy Impala SS 327 2 dr coupe. Kind of a flashy two tone silver blue with bucket seats. Stu, watching Barry look around the car bragged, "Yeah, 4 Barrel Carb with solid lifters." Barry didn't see this in his image of the large woman singer named Toni who could belt out songs. Suddenly, Barry realized that he was not completely out of his Kitty look with some residual nail polish on his hands, mascara around his eyes (not much, but enough) and probably something else that he forgot in his haste. Panic! What if mom is waiting for me? Costume party? Feign ignorance? Attacked by man-hating women who forced me into makeup? Barry's mind raced to figure out a course of action as Stu drove through the deserted streets. He put his nails in his mouth and used his teeth to take off some of the spots of polish. The nail polish remover residual tasted awful.
"Let me off here", said Barry, about three blocks from his house. Stu pulled over and give him the once over. "What's your game, kid?" asked the big torch singer. Barry was too busy wondering how to make this work and more importantly, how to keep this job and go home every night. First problem, get into the house without being seen and clean up. He quickly nodded and mumbled and thank you to Stu who added, "That was the best hostess/waitress job for a first night ever. How many people bought you a drink? 20? 30? Good thing that was colored water." His laughter at his own joke was insincere. Even a kid like Barry recognized jealously when it was that obvious. Barry had a choice and made it. He leaned in and smiled as broadly as he could. Stu smiled back. To Barry this was strictly business. To Stu, Barry thought, who cares? Maybe I can hook a few fish like Kitty and quickly put that out of his mind as he walk quickly to get home.
Barry quietly let himself in through the side door and tiptoed to the main bath. He left his satchel of stuff in a special hiding place outside that he had used on occasion to go out as Kitty. He made it to the bathroom, his heart racing as he heard his mother stirring in the bedroom, She called out, "Barry? Barry? Is that you?" Barry shouted back, "Yeah mom? I am okay. I'm tired. We'll talk in the morning." She kind of yelled, " Okay. Goodnight, Barry." Barry jumped in the shower and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. Lots of soap……..
The next morning, Barry woke up to the sound of a kettle whistling on the burner. He joined his mom for instant coffee and burnt toast. Not much was said (as usual) as she read the paper and stared out into space at nothing in particular. Finally, his mom asked, "Have fun last night?" Uh,oh, thought Barry, be careful he thought, Finally, he slowly said, "Hey, found a job…." His mom perked up and said, "Great, you can earn some spending money and save for books for college next year." Yeah, great, Barry thought. Now, carefully, he casually added, "I'm bussing tables down at the Cabana Club. You know, for drinks, parties…" (ouch! Did that sound casual? He knew that his mom was intimidated by people who belonged to the Cabana Club, she would never join and knew few people who belonged and you couldn't get in without a pass so it would be hard to check on him). She never smiled so it was hard to gauge her reaction. But she seemed happy that he found a job and one that would keep him out at night…..until 1 or 2 AM but only on the weekends.
That evening, Barry went to the Boom Boom Room even earlier than the night before. He knew that Kitty needed time to get ready and Rhonda would not be there. This time, he was even there earlier than Eddie and the place was still locked. Barry stood outside in the sunshine and thinking about what Kitty was going to wear that night. He had decided on the leatherette mini dress that Leslie gave him. This time, by taking his time and dressing in the private office, the transition to Kitty went smoothly. As Barry slowly, almost in a ritualistic way, melted into Kitty, Kitty noticed how much easier it was getting to send Barry away. She smiled to herself as she teased her hair out with tons of hairspray. The fall was attached and combed out and in the darker light of the Boom Boom Room was close to a match with Kitty's own hair.
Kitty started the second night with the confidence of a veteran even though she had been a hostess for only one night. The same Drag Show, the same jokes, customers with the same questions and the same everything. Kitty was learning how to make them think that they were special. Kitty was becoming everyone's sweetheart. She always was friendly, never talked behind anyone's back and could light up a room with her smile. Table after table waited patiently for Kitty to arrive, kid around a bit and get everyone laughing. Her value was not lost on her co-workers. Whether they liked her or resented her, they needed her to put connect to the paying customers.
As the evening was winding down, several guys came in and sat at a table. They were in their mid twenties. One seemed to be buying all the drinks. He was from Queens and the other guys were from out of town. He gave Kitty a huge tip after the second round of drinks and an even larger tip after the third. As she picked up the empty second round, the guy pulled her towards him and kissed her full flush on the lips. Kitty was taken by surprise and pulled away. The tray of empty glasses went everywhere and Kitty went backwards landing on her butt as the glasses broke around her. She was stunned and could feel the tears of humiliation building up in her. All of a sudden, PANIC! What if the cops are called? Eddie the bartender and two other guys were on the scene in two seconds and escorted the attacker and his party to the door. The place seemed to go a little dim for Kitty as someone put a hand down to gently lift her up. She looked up and it was a COP!! A COP! There are going to arrest me and…and…Kitty felt faint.
The police officer looked down at Kitty with actual concern. He asked, "Are you okay?" Kitty nodded (she would've nodded that she was okay even if she wasn't just to avoid anything resembling an offical investigation). She heard Eddie chime in, "We don't want no trouble, O'Byrne." And the officer turned way and went off into the bar area with Eddie. Pretty soon all was quiet. The stripper brought out a broom and dust pan. Then sneered at Kitty and said very quietly, "Sweep up before someone gets hurt." Kitty could feel eyes on her and slowly got up to clean up the floor and no one came over to help her.
The evening was almost over. The customers left and the "girls" including Kitty dashed for the nails in the back room that constituted a "dressing room" and changed. Kitty scrubbed up fast and furious and got out just in time to be there when the tips for both nights were divided up. She got all of thirty dollars per night for a total of $60. Kind of okay for a waiter job in 1967 but not okay for what she had to do and what she meant to this group. But Barry was only just 18 and afraid to speak up. What about his clothing allowance, the minimum wage promised ($1.75 per hour) and EXACTLY what were the total tips and where did they go?
Barry could see that the performers got at least double or more than he did and he was the one whom the public loved. He could feel his cheeks getting hotter but he kept quiet as usual. The group split up and it was understood that he was to show up next Friday (6 PM at the latest). Barry felt that he had been used and misled and just wanted to leave. While the others shared a drink at the bar on the house, Barry slipped quietly out the door, satchel of stuff in hand and flagged down a cab on Northern Boulevard (a neat trick since it was 2 AM).
The cab left him off approximately three blocks from his house and he walked quietly through the quiet Queens streets lost in thought but well aware that it was not all that safe at 2:30AM out there. He made it to his back door and quietly left his satchel in the hiding place and snuck quietly into the house, this time a bit less fearful because all his makeup was off and he was 100% in guy mode.
That night, Barry just couldn't go to sleep as he reflected on the events of the last three months and especially tonight. He started this adventure to dress as Kitty as a lark in the hopes of having fun for one night (he made a mental note to never tell a soul that he performed oral sex on a perfect stranger for reasons that seem stupid now). He had a mentor who started him down a path of discovery including his first loving sexual experience, the emergence of Kitty and a job that surely had to be one of a kind.
Who was Barry anyway, he wondered? Is Kitty just a part of my personality that I have been suppressing? Would I feel different if I was 6'2" and weighed 235 Lbs? He kind of felt like a male actress; not exactly what he thought he would feel. He noticed that he was completely different than the performers at the Boom Boom Room who did drag for reasons that appeared very different than his. Why am I so manipulative as Kitty? Why does she (I mean I, I) try to catch guys like she is fishing? And then throw them back? Am I gay? Do I want to be like that master of ceremonies whom everyone called "auntie" someday? What would happen to Kitty when she (I) bats her eyelashes and people stop smiling back? Did Barry want to dress like Kitty or BE Kitty? Or what? Become a famous "drag" racer? How does a guy in a dress get anywhere in this world?
Barry knew that the answers were not in his head, as he drifted off to sleep. However, he knew that the answers were not at the Boom Boom Room. Gotta check the "Help Wanted" Ads again……..
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