Colson: He/she was a great stand-in — what’s next?
The first sign that something was a little off was the shoes.
They weren’t in any way the kind of shoes you’d expect to stumble across in the lower reaches of Fort Zachary Taylor, a 165-year-old, majestic but crumbling naval fortification at the western end of Key West.
No, they were bright red, patent leather, thigh-length pumps with heels so high their wearer would have to deal with nosebleeds every time she put them on.
On second thought, maybe these were JUST the kind of footwear one might expect to find at that spot, in this portion of the 21st Century.
But, more on that later.
For the moment, I was a little taken aback, perhaps even flummoxed by the splash of intense color at my feet, as I had just rounded a corner and found myself thinking about transvestites.
Now, before you get the wrong idea, let me explain, and that will mean taking a little trip backward in time.
There normally are four of us — we occasionally call ourselves the Four Horsemen just for grins — who all went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison back in the late 1970s.
Myself, Nick, Mark and Kent had all gone separate ways, but then again we stuck together, meeting every so often in one outlandish spot or another to recharge the friendship and remember the days when we didn’t care so much about what was coming around the next bend.
This time, we picked Key West in late January, mostly because Nick happens to be living in Miami with his wonderful wife and diamond-bright son, Sebastian.
But this time, something was wrong. Kent was unable to join us due to some mysterious issue having to do with work, or making some sort of money deal, or maybe it was something more dark and sinister, we were afraid to ask.
Anyways, after we got over our pique that Kent would not be joining us, we realized that the worst part of Kent’s absence would be the undermining of a tradition we had grown fond of — a photo of the Four Horsemen (or the Three Musketeers minus d’Artagnan, in this instance) with Kent traditionally holding a newspaper published on the day of the photo, kind of like hostages to our own excess.
Jokesters that we are, we felt a need to commemorate the entire scenario in some sarcastic, harmlessly vengeful way, so we began casting about for a substitute for Kent in the inevitable photo.
We thought about getting our hands on a mannequin and dressing it up, but the logistical difficulties soon forced our thoughts elsewhere.
Since we were in Key West, our next thoughts were of some obvious gay boy, a supercilious queer who is proud of his status and would enjoy the very idea of our revenge.
Naturally, our nasty little minds immediately moved on to the next obvious possibility, a drag queen, and we knew we had hit paydirt.
And here, in the dank, dark recesses of crumbling old Fort Zachary Taylor, surrounded by cannons and tourists, we had stumbled upon our quarry, who gave her name as Elle (which means “she” in French).
Elle was posing for pictures in full regalia — meaning a tight leather one-piece that left little to the imagination, bulging “breasts” and variations on a theme of footwear with heels up to, well, you know.
Just the kind of thing you’d be amazed to encounter anywhere else, but which fit right into the overall atmosphere of Key West.
Turned out, perhaps inescapably, that the photographer, a tiny little man named Alex, wasn’t actually a man at all.
“I’m what you’d call a Drag King,” Alex announced proudly to me, explaining instantly, “I’m a girl who’s trying to be a man.”
An assertion that was proved when we caught Alex’s act that night at the 801 Club on Duval Street — but that’s another story.
So, I huddled with my chums, who had been standing a little ways off inspecting a cannon that could blast a 100-pound ball of lead some two miles out to sea, and we got to work making our own kind of history.
There were, of course, some minor delays. We had to find a newspaper, for one, and that’s not an easy task these days.
But we championed gamely on, and our co-conspirators were kind enough to stay on past their appointed departure time while Mark wandered around in search of the Proof (the paper, you understand).
Finally, the thing was done, and a fine thing it is (the photo, I mean), if I do say so myself.
Nick sent the photo off to Kent, who sent us back a droll reply, and our mission was accomplished.
The only question remaining is, when we get to Havana next year (that’s the plan, such as it is, at this point), what do we do for an encore?
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