WALK LIKE A WOMAN by Peter Nolan Smith

Billy Wilder’s SOME LIKE IT HOT was a funny movie about two musicians hiding from the Mob in an all-women band and I didn’t think much about men dressing as women, until my next-door neighbor asked in his basement, “Who you think is prettier? Jack Lemmon or Tony Curtis?”

“Neither.”

The year was 1964 and men in dresses weren’t supposed to be pretty to twelve year-old boys on the South Shore of Boston.

“Yeah, but if you had to make a choice, who would it be?” Chuckie Manzi was my best friend, but his question had weirder me out.

“I pick Marilyn.” She was the logical choice.

“Marilyn’s dead and you wouldn’t want to make love to a dead women, so if you were on a deserted island with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, who would be your wife?”

“I would kill myself before marrying either of them.”

The Catholic Church condemned men dressing as woman an abomination, however the priests wore long black cassocks, which they looked like dresses to me and I kept my distance from priests as would any twelve year-old atheist.

“You know they have a word for men who want to be women? Drag queens and not drag like drag racing.”

“I know.” I had heard that term in school and the words were not spoken in a nice way.

“Some of them are supposed to be pretty.”

“Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are not pretty.”

“You’re no fun.” Chuckie gave up on getting an answer.

A year later I entered his bedroom and was shocked to see a teenage girl in lingerie and high heels. For a second I thought it was Chuckie’s sister Addy. I was in love with my ex-babysitter, but then Chuckie pushed back the wig, “I just wanted to feel what dressing like a girl was like. It feels real good. You want to try?”

“No.”

I left his house.

We remained friends throughout the 1960s and when Ray Davies sang on Kinks’ hit song LOLA, “She walked like a woman and talked like a man.” Chuckie asked, “You ever see a man walked like a woman and talk like a man?”

“Once at the Greyhound Bus Station. I had bought Levi jeans at Walker’s on Boylston Street and was walking to South Station.”

“Through the Combat Zone?”

Strip bars, gay clubs, porno parlors, and prostitution in Boston’s adult entertainment district.

“Yeah, I was looking for something at Jacks Joke Shop and outside the Hillbilly Ranch and a man in a dress was fighting a sailor, who hadn’t paid her.”

“Who won?”

“The drag queen. They’re tough, because they have to be tough. You still wear Addy’s lingerie?”

“No, I outgrew that.”

“You could always try on your mother’s undies.”

“Fuck off.” Chuckie dropped this subject forever.

After high school we grew apart.

I attended a Catholic university on the outskirts of Boston and drove taxi to pay for an apartment near the campus. My last fares of the night were from in the Combat Zone; mostly go-go dancers, drunks, and a few drag queens from the Other Side. The trannies were good tippers and several were more attractive than the strippers from the Two O’Clock Lounge.

Most of the drag queens brought straight men to cheap hotels. Neither passenger spoke much en route and after dropping them off for a night of wicked sex I couldn’t help, but sing Lou Reed’s WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, “In the back room she was everyone’s darling.”

In 1971 I didn’t know what a back room was, but a move to New York in 1976 opened my eyes, because sexual frontiers were blurred in a city where people answered their desires with a constant yes.

I frequented gay bars with queer friends from the ballet. My queer friends told the fag hags that I had doubts about being a homo. These models, air hostesses, and strippers thought they had could cure me and they were right, because I was mostly straight.

One night at the Anvil I was waiting for my friends to end their voyage to Sodom in the back room.

No girls were allowed in the bar, so I was surprised by an attractive slender brunette sitting next to me.

She could have graced a fashion runway in her pink tube top and hot pants.

A long lacquered nail touched my shoulder.

“Buy me a drink?”

The faux falsetto betrayed why the bouncer permitted her into the Anvil and I ignored her request.

“Are you going to make me beg?” She twirled a strand of long brown hair around her finger. It was a good act and I laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, just thinking of an old song.”

“Let me guess,” she sighed with a roll of her eyes. “LOLA.”

“Yes.” I was a poor liar after a few drinks.

“Too bad it wasn’t a song you want to dance to like Diana Ross’ LOVE HANGOVER.” “Because I’m a good dancer.” She wiggled her shoulders like a Times Square go-go girl

“I bet you are.” I signaled the bartender for two drinks.

“My name’s Dove. How you like to go in the back room with me? You can do anything you want.”

“No thanks.”

“Do you think I’m unattractive?” Her lips pouted with hurt disappointment.

“You’re every man’s dream, if I were that type of man.”

“I know you’re straight. That’s why I sat here.”

“I thought it was to hustle me for a drink.”

“Fresh.” She slapped my hand. “I have my own money.”

She flashed a thick roll of twenties.

“I’m kept by a very important person.”

“Who’s your VIP?”

“A US senator from Dixie.”

“Which one?”

“If I told you, he’d have to kill you, but I accompanied him to Jimmy Carter’s inaugural ball. Every man at the White House was stumbling over their feet to worship my high heels, especially those wicked Republicans. They really have a thing for girls like me.”

“I bet they do.”

After that comment the two of us conversed about politics, love, and sex.

I ordered more drinks.

My friends were lost in the Anvil’s snake pit.

An hour later I waved for the bill.

“Where you going?”

“Home. I live in a SRO room on 11th Street and 5th.”

“And you’re leaving alone?”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, one night you and I will get it together.”

“Never,” I answered too fast to be telling the truth.

“I’ve heard ‘never’ too many times to know that ‘never’ doesn’t exist forever.”

She stood up to twitch a hip as a calling card for that future date in Never-Neverland.

Dove was not only patient.

She was persistent.

I refused her at the Mudd Club, Studio 54, CBGBs, Hurrahs, Xenon, the Kiev, and Dave’s Luncheonette.

“One night you and me.”

“Never.”

Dove smiled and caressed my thigh.

“See you soon.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

Dove disappeared for most of the fall.

On Halloween in 1980 I attended a black tie Paloma Picasso party honoring the NY Ballet at Danceteria on 37th Street. The illegal nightclub was packed with Upper East Side slummers and after an hour of champagne I went to retrieve my leather jacket from the coat check.

While waiting in line a young ballet boy stumbled into me. His clumsiness was not from too many drinks. A brutish six-footer shook the dancer by his tuxedo lapels. The stitching of the ballet boy’s evening suit gave way and I slashed my arm down on his aggressor’s wrists, breaking his grasp and the gay boy fled into the crowd.

“Why you do that?” the thug demanded with eyes blurred red with Dexies.

“Because I didn’t feel like being bumped into, while you beat up on a fag.”

“And what are you going to do about it?” His hands clenched into fists.

Boys from South Shore of Boston didn’t back down from challenges and I lashed a right to his mouth. The punch staggered him. He spit a tooth in my chest. I threw lefts and rights faster than his counters, but my heavier opponent weathered the blows without any sign of damage and backed me up to the wall.

I was in trouble, until two bouncers stopped the brawl.

They knew me and threw the Jersey boy out of the club.

Two ballerinas praised my standing up against this gay basher and I exited Danceteria with them in tow. On the street I waved down a taxi, but my hand never reached the air, because something struck the base of my skull.

Hard.

I fell into the gutter and pulled my arms over my head.

A second blow booted my ego past my superego into a green emerald id pulsating with lightning.

This was not a good sign. Finally someone asked with a Jersey accent, “You have you had enough?”

“Yes.”

I sat up with great difficulty.

“No you haven’t.” The thug cracked my skull with a chain wrapped around his fist and strode away the victor.

I rose to my feet shaken to the bone.

“Are you all right?” asked a young handsome photographer on the scene.

I had seen him around. His name was Marcus.

“I think so.” My teeth were intact and my nose was unbroken.

“He would have killed you if I hadn’t have pulled him off.” Marcus was clearly horrified by the damage to my face.

“I owe you one.” I glanced in a car mirror. Blood drooled from a dozen cuts and my skull was swollen with blossoming bruises.

I took a taxi home and stayed in bed for a few days.

Every second of my convalescence I plotted my revenge, for while New York was a big city, the nightlife in 1979 was a small scene consisting of maybe 3000 people and two weeks later a transvestite trapeze bar opened in Times Square. Dove’s lover was part owner and she invited me for a drink at the bar.

“I heard about you’re saving that gay boy at Danceteria.” She signaled the bartender for drinks.

“You’re my hero.”

She was smoking a Virginia Slim.

“Heroes don’t get the shit beaten out of them.” My facial bones were returning to their original positions.

“Well, you’re a hero to me and I’d love to show you how much.” The black Chanel dress revealed the best features of her Mia Farrow figure.

“Thanks, but I’m not really in a romantic mood.”

“I could change that in a second.”

She opened a Pond’s Cream jar packed with cocaine shining with Bolivian pink.

“You, me, and an ounce of blow. How can you say no?”

“Not tonight.” I rose off the stool.

“What wrong?” She was an expert judge of the mood of men.

“That guy who beat me up just walked into the bar.” I grabbed a knife from behind the bar.

The handle was as cold as the blood in my veins.

“No.” Dove pushed me back down and puffed on her cigarette. “Girls like me learn early how to take care of ourselves and our friends. I’ll take care of this. Believe me, it’ll better this way.”

She read the murder in my eyes.

“This better be good.”

“Silly man, this will be bad.”

Dove stole through the crowd, sucking on her cigarette, until the ember burned a lava red. Dove winked at me and tapped the thug on the shoulder.

When he turned around, she stuck the cigarette in his eye.

Screaming he dropped to his knees.

Dove returned to the bar and asked, “Will you go home with me now?”

“How I can refuse?”

At my room we snorted blow, then necked and petted and groped without intercourse. The cocaine eunuched my cock.

In the morning Dove left my apartment, whispering that that my erection dysfunction was our little secret.

“Thanks.”

“No, thank you, super-hero.” Dove was a starlet of discretion.

Her bar lasted a half-year. Dove sold out her interest to the owners of Danceteria.

Over the next months Dove began to dressed like a Park Avenue divorcee with nova blonde hair and one day she told me that she was moving south.

“To Palm Beach.”

“Big money country.”

She shrugged a shoulder cloaked by Dior.

“The Senator isn’t running for office and he wants to make me an honest woman.”

“An operation?”

“Perish the thought.”

“Good luck.” Being beautiful was a powerful card to play with the rich.

“Thanks, but I was born lucky.” She smiled knowing the odds weren’t in her favor, but they never are for girls like her.

And now every time I hear WALK ON THE WILD SIDE I think about Dove, because she was everyone’s darling in the right mood and beat out Tony Curtis as my # 1 choice on a deserted island, although I couldn’t have foreseen that option in 1964.

Not even in my wettest dreams about a man who walks like a woman.

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