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Laddies Night

[whitespace] Drag Queens
Traci Hukill

Sundays out behind the Arena have taken on a whole new twist

By Traci Hukill

'THE GIRLS WILL SEE you now. They just wanted to be dressed first," Dennis Andrews shouts above the din at Foxtail. A lanky silvertop with a trace of Southern aristocrat in his long face and courteous manner, Andrews weaves through the throng of people, steps deftly through the men's room and opens the back door to a stairwell.

"Watch your step," he cautions, leading the way up to a bright, tiny dressing room cluttered with cans of Aqua Net, makeup kits and discarded sequined outfits. At the top of the landing a caramel-complexioned beauty in a sleek white wig and stretchy gown turns and blinks, smiling shyly. Only the ghost of a square jaw, plus enviable muscle tone in her back and probably other features not currently on display, suggests that this is not a natural-born femme fatale.

"This is Nikki," Andrews says. "She does a lot of work for charity. And this is Tina, Nahomy and Raizza. Girls, please excuse me," he announces with his usual gentility before trotting back down the stairs to tend to his nightclub.

Four sets of wide painted eyes, generous mouths and glamorous hairdos tilt into expressions of polite expectation. The dressing room air hangs sweet and thick with gardenia perfume and smoke from Tina's cigarette. Tina herself sits on a folding chair in the corner, swinging her foot and adjusting a glittering earring. The willowy Nahomy casually sets a bottle of Corona on the dressing table behind her--a simple movement, but poetry in motion nonetheless.

It is like being in the presence of rare, stunning birds. An hour ago Tina opened the Sunday night show dressed in satin tights and a low-cut top, strutting around the stage in time with the pulsing rhythm and lip synching a song into a gold microphone held close to her wide, lipsticked mouth. The others followed in an array of astonishing outfits: Nahomy wore a red cutout leotard into which catcalling fans stuffed dollar bills. Nikki wore a silver dress and long brown wig. Star quality was firing out of them in dazzling bursts that lit up the small Foxtail stage, the same star quality that brings faithful patrons to the newest drag show in town every Sunday night.

And now these lovely creatures are quiet and aloof, their innate grace a reproach to all things ordinary and slovenly. Several of them perform at Lido and other venues around the Bay during the week. All of them support charity, donating time or tips to causes like Andrews' favorite, Camp Sunrise, which targets kids with AIDS. They consider themselves true performers, both privileged and obligated.

"A lot of people--straight, bisexual, gay--want to see what the performers are going to do," explains Mexico-born Raizza, who also leads the only gay folkloric group in the area. "It's our responsibility to make something excellent."

"Two years I have performed every week," chimes in Nikki in a Puerto Rican accent. "People are expecting me."

"It's the illusion," Raizza explains. "Maybe we don't look like the real performer, but with nice makeup and a nice wig, we can entertain them." As she speaks, Raizza either relaxes or forgets herself, because she quickly reaches into her black gown and removes a pair of foam falsies without interrupting her monologue.

Downstairs, the bar is reaching capacity with hordes of young Latino and Asian men, many of them sporting identical near-buzz cuts and black leather jackets.

"This place is the bomb!" exclaims R.J. Smith, a recent arrival from New York whose tank top has apparently been commissioned to reveal a lot of muscles and tattoos. His friend Gabriel Bates pipes up. "Since Mary's closed, this is the only place to come," he says. "This is our place."

A group of lesbians nearby say they, too, come here every Sunday night. "It's wonderful, marvelous," says Gina Murietta with exaggerated enthusiasm. Her friends, among them a woman who insists on identifying herself as Tone Dog, say they like the beer.

Near the start of Act Two a kid in baggy pants and a hat takes the stage and lip synchs Nirvana's "Lithium" with so much raw energy and joy on his face that it's almost embarrassing. It's beautiful, actually, just like this whole thing is beautiful in its own funny, courageous way. I'm left thinking that if one must strut and fret upon the stage, this forgiving venue is surely one of the best places to do it.

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From the January 14-20, 1999 issue of Metro.

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