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DAMES AT SEA

‘What is this?’ she asked, prodding at the program, ‘what is this ‘friends of Dorothy? Who is Dorothy?’

‘Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. It’s a group of Judy Garland fans. They come on board every cruise.’

She nodded seriously, just a little surprised..

‘Haven’t you heard of them?

‘Well, why isn’t there a Meryl Streep fan club?’

I swear she said this.

‘Friends of Meryl…’  she mused.

She tailed off. Somewhere deep in there a light went on.

‘Oh, you mean homosexuals..?

*

Bunny and Binkie may have been the Judy Garland fans.

‘She-e-e’s the practical one!’ cackled Bunny, an ex-New Yorker expatriate in London.

‘What time is it? I don’t know. That’s her business. Where are we going? I don’t know, that her business. How much does it cost? I don’t know…’

Binkie looked at him gently. This was their act. This was rehearsed. This was Bunny shtick.

‘She makes the bookings, she gets the flights, she chooses the cruises…’

I had the distinct feeling that ‘she’ pays for it, too.

Bunny was, by no means, a toy-boy. The two of them were in their sixties, growing old and gay as disgracefully as they could.

‘We lo-o-o-ove cruising, don’t we Binkie? We cruise six months every year.’

Binkie moneybags just melted into the furniture. This was the Bunny show. Seeing as the ticket was free, I watched for a while. That’s all you could do – watch. It was a performance, not a conversation.

Bunny was an American gentleman of colour, one of the very few on the boat. In Bunny’s instance it wasn’t his colour that set him apart, it wasn’t his in-your-face flamboyance, it was the vast frizz of hair that surrounded his face. What once was curly now was straight. He seemed to have stretched it – or ironed it, lay supine with weights hanging off it, I don’t know. His hair didn’t seem to know either. It splayed out like Don King in a hurricane.

They were completely happy, cruising around, spending Binky’s money and couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about anyone. They were big and loud and gay, determinedly facile and proud of it. Well, Bunny was. Binky just sat there, quiet as the grave.

I didn’t think they were stupid people. They seemed wise beyond their years but their wisdom had been gained through pain; the death of friends, the plague, the times of struggle. Now they just wanted to not think about that – or anything really, they wanted life to be easy and shallow and fun.  Just like they were going to be – determinedly, relentlessly shallow having fun, fun, fun.

*

A month ago the entire ship was booked out by a gay travel agent. Six hundred and fifty GLBT cruisers arrived and everybody had a great time. One of the older gay gentlemen became confused and was left behind. He’d been wandering the corridors ever since. Now Lon was traveling solo on his third cruise back to back. He liked cruising. People talked to him. Well, usually only once, but they talked to him. He was a man who danced to the beat of his own bottle, portly, strawberry-blonde and pale, an elderly Southern Belle in baggy shorts and Hawaiian shirt. Lon would loom, stake out his prey and then descend. He was splayed out opposite you at the table before you knew it.

‘Boy!’ waved one pudgy little hand, ‘Boy!’

Some handsome Azamara youth leapt to his feet.

‘Bring me my tea!’ Lon shouted.

A Long Island Tea contains three parts each of Vodka, Tequila, White Rum, Triple Sec and Gin. Neither the added splash of lemon juice nor the dash of Coke is going to diminish the punch of all that alcohol. They were lethal, 28% proof. Lon guzzled them all day.

‘They’ve renamed it especially for me,’ he cooed.

Now it’s ‘Lon Island Tea’.

We met over Lon’s bedbugs. Alone on the ship, Lon had bedbugs – so he maintained. The ship’s doctor was prepared to agree with him – anything to shut a drunk hypochondriac up. The room had been fumigated; Lon now slept with the lights on knowing in his Lon way that night-time is playtime for bed bugs.

Doctor Dogster arrived with his miracle cream. Elocon seems to work miracles on anything, used sparingly, as per instructions. Balm was applied to Lon’s many bites while we sat at the bar.

‘I can feel the miracle,’ he said, ‘halleluiah!’

Within thirty minutes his legs were un-bed-bugged.

He ordered another Lon Island Tea on the strength of that and we talked. He remains a blur; he was so extraordinary a companion, so emotional, so sensitive that he spent whole chunks of our conversation on the verge of tears.

‘I’m psychic,’ he whispered, ‘I see everything.’

He couldn’t see he was a drunk. He had adopted the convenient Californication of the truth. He was ‘ill’.

‘My mother looked into my face and said ‘Lon, you will have special powers…’

‘Do you think you do?

‘Oh, yes, I can se-e–e-e.’

He was s-s-s-s-sensitive. Actually Lon felt things rather than saw them. He felt his pain, your pain, my pain, the pain of little orphans and wounded kittens, the pain of abuse and laughter – Lon was a pain-o-meter. No wonder he drank Lon Island Tea for breakfast. Growing up a big ‘ol faggot boy in the South can’t have been easy; if a relative could abandon him they did, if life could hand him a random cruelty it had, fate had already crushed him – even the bed-bugs chose him exclusively to bite. He was a lost soul floating around in the family inheritance, quite unable to get sober, off the boat and on with his life.

‘The worst thing,’ he said, his eyes filling with tears, ‘is at the end of the cruise, when all my friends leave…’

Oh, Lon. They aren’t your friends, pal, they aren’t your friends.

‘Ah-h-h-m so terribly sick,’ Lon sighed.

It was an audience with Tennessee Williams. Soon Lon would become Blanche du Bois. Well, actually Lon would become Divine imitating Madonna channeling Vivien Leigh playing Blanche du Bois. He was quite a performance. Then he started to cry.

Gawd, just what I need. Now I’m gonna be stuck with loser Lon for the next two weeks. Never show a pariah dog kindness. No wonder people were leaving me alone.

*

DINNER WITH LON

*

TWO VERY NAUGHTY BOYS

*

DES & ALEXI

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