Lovers’ Theme

The Iowa Review - - NEWS - Evan james

I’m a cell phone. That’s what I told my­self as I waited for Anna Conda to wel­come me to the stage of The Cinch, a Polk Street gay bar in San Fran­cisco. My heart beat against a pink card­board flip-phone cos­tume made by my close friend Kate. I pre­pared to turn my face, a mask of thick foun­da­tion, painted lips, and arched, drawn-in eye­brows, all framed by a wavy blonde wig, upon the crowd. (Through a hole in the gi­ant flip phone’s screen, I mean. Flip phone pro­to­type: Mo­torola Razr. This was 2007.) I’m a cell phone. As soon as Anna Conda called my name—my then drag name, Ex­trem­ity—i’d climb the steps, a gi­ant pink la­dy­phone in black Pay­less heels, ready to lip-synch a care­fully se­lected med­ley of ring­tones. “Please give it up for Ex­trem­i­ties!” Amidst whoop­ing, laughter, and ap­plause, I heard Kate’s voice call, “It’s Ex­trem­ity!” The stage lights glared down on me, and I car­ried my­self with as much styl­ized fem­i­nine dig­nity as a be­daz­zled and spray­painted suit of card­board al­lowed. The mu­sic came on—a loud, cheap­sound­ing, ring­tone ren­di­tion of Brit­ney Spears’s “Baby One More Time,” all syn­the­sized bleeps and squawks meant to em­u­late the hu­man voice. I opened and closed my mouth along with the tones, call­ing to mind, I hoped, a ven­tril­o­quist’s dummy. “Meep meep meep meep…meep meep meep meep…” The peo­ple who at­tended drag shows in San Fran­cisco gen­er­ally ate this kind of thing up—part of the rea­son Kate and I wanted to put to­gether the num­ber. To my knowl­edge, no one at any of the drag nights had yet per­formed as a cell phone—sur­pris­ing, ac­tu­ally—and this nov­elty pro­vided mo­ti­va­tion enough for me to mem­o­rize the se­quence of ring­tone yaps, to roll on panty­hose and af­fix false lashes to real. Many, many queens went to much, much fur­ther lengths for their drag num­bers, putting hours into elab­o­rate looks and chore­og­ra­phy that graced the stage for three min­utes at a time. (I once watched, agog, five peo­ple in courtly eigh­teenth-cen­tury Euro­pean dress—pow­dered wigs, pan­niered dresses, deep dé­col­letage—on a tiny stage at The Stud, per­form­ing a chore­ographed num­ber to “Rock Me Amadeus,” from the Mozart biopic Amadeus. “Ooh! Rock me Amadeus!”) Kate and I more of­ten threw things to­gether for con­cep­tual laughs. When the Cinch barflies started

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