That evening I met a badass queer. Not a Midwestern cotton candy and sunshine queer. A real queer full of grit and leather and an occasional lisp. The tough fag was drinking a martini, but not one of those gay martinis. A real man’s man martini. He had a big head with a lovely presence, like a gnome.
I knew there was trouble coming but somehow he’d make it all okay.
I first saw him earlier that evening. I went to my sister’s comedy troupe at a cabaret called Rose’s Turn in the West Village. Joan Rivers, Belushi (the dead one), Seinfeld, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray started, or performed there, doing comedy from the 50’s onward. There was a plush crowd, political satire, and musical comedy. Cocktails were passed down the aisles like beers at ball games.
The man I speak of was a Sicilian trained in classical opera with a honed talent from his younger years. His drag alias was Lips. He was a part time drug-runner. Big biceps and glutes. He spent some time in prison for going the wrong way on a one way street in the Bronx, trunk full of cocaine. He was in his third year of dental school and was ready for residency but the cash on the side was too much action to give up.
Lips’ voice resonated like an animate bass, at times maybe a saxophone, reverberating throughout the performance. He pirouetted numerous boas like comet trails in the foreground of their stage.
As I watched him gyrate and twirl, I thought damn, that fag can move. His hands floated like wandering Kleenex in a landfill.
The post-performance party was at Marlowe’s on 46th Street in Midtown. We all settled in around a couple tables and indulged. Before long, we decided to frequent Timberlake’s hangout, a club in the trendy meatpacking district.
I was filled with urban grit from the pirouetting boas and NYC’s electrifying atmosphere, the swirl of belly dancers and musical tongues convoluted with whiskey and rye. The Moroccan club’s dance floor, live music, my face like a pluralistic virtuoso with the belly dancers scattered amongst us clientele.
I threw the third round of tequila over my shoulder thinking there wasn’t a chance anyone would see it. I tossed it like Chevy Chase in Caddyshack. No one did see it, but someone got splashed and was mad as a hatter.
Three Soprano-esque toughs encircled me. Lips saved me from the blows, stepping in between, my Cassius Clay. He moved like a bee: one-twos, uppercuts, jabs, and afterwards a piece of a lip remained on his hand and a tooth stuck in his knuckle.
We didn’t get kicked out. Lips was respected, possibly feared, and carried the demeanor of a VIP.
He was my drag queen savior that night minus the drag. His real name was Joshua. I thought of his big head floating in the air like a handsome hot air balloon. At times, I still picture his Twizzler lips floating above my bed, only to eventually fall on my cheek like the first snowflake of winter.