Sunday, March 23, 2008

Concrete, Gospel, and Westchester Trannies

Easter Sunday

Just back from NYC. I woke this morning thinking of the city but also, because it was Easter, of Psalm 81:16: “...and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you…” Plenty of rock on Manhattan. The whole island was wind-blasted and stony as coastline – the cliff faces of buildings; the trees with their bark hard, bare, and flinty; even faces – everyone caught in the raw wind that dried and thickened the skin.

But honey? As I lay there, the word wrapped itself around images of curtains blowing from windows, plastic bags rippling in branches, sunlight glinting off glass, and finally the posters and graffiti between the shops in SoHo. Brightspray paint colors; peeling, image laden paper; faces, tags, and icons; angry words, holy words, proclamations of love and the end of the world – all this testament old and new spilling from concrete surfaces.

Sat Night: Nowhere (but Westchester)

We found ourselves in a basement bar called Nowhere, where an elderly grand-dame of a drag queen revealed to me a bit of the versatile poetry of the closet. “You can come here,” she said with a dry, thudding accent “and say to the wife, the neighbors, ‘I’m going nowhere’ and you wouldn’t be lying. Plus look around, the name fits!”

I asked what brought her nowhere tonight and her companion chimed in, “She’s a hag from Westchester, she had nowhere else to go!” Unflustered, my hostess responded, “The wife is in Florida with the grand kids, so here I am. I’m retired.” This statement was the cue to an obviously well rehearsed routine:

“Retired? She’s just tired.”

“Don’t mind her she thinks she’s on radio. She’s that old and her reception has always been poor.”

“Her wife knows she does drag, but don’t complain ‘cause this one is the only thing uglier than she is.”

“It’s hard to be a married drag queen, we’re both always watching our figures…”
“yeah, watchin’ ‘em get bigger everyday.”

“This one should talk, she uses powdered sugar from her jelly donuts for eye shadow!”

On they went, while the other girls in place had a shoe contest. None of them were pretty, none would pass, but beauty flowed across the room on heels, buckles, bows, bright toenails, long legs, skirts, gold belts, gold bangles, ruddy lips, pink and silver fingertips, and hair tossed, teased, slipping awry. A girl so tall her hair pressed the ceiling told me, “This body is my gift, my god given gift.” I looked at faces of the older ladies beside me. By day they would be lined and craggy. Even under layers of foundation, their heavy, masculine bone structure still showed But tonight, if their faces hadn’t really been smoothed of age and gender, they had been given a softness of spirit and an inner sustenance. Night, make-up, and companionship drew honey from the rock.