I don’t know whether it’s the end times or if indeed I’ve just tripped over a red sequin and fallen into The Wizard of Oz, but somebody has flipped the switch to black-and-white and knocked the entire city of Orlando – which should be used to this summer thing by now – into a frenzy of hatches being battened and bathtub fetal exercises. “Crackle, crackle, boom!” goes the sky, heaving in heavenly indigestion, as pelts of sulfuric water scatter and slap news-anchor hairdos into “don’t leave the house” submission. We’re all going to die. It’s Tuesday.
“Toto,” I Morse-tap my Samsung. “I mean, Karen. I regret to inform you that that whole bit about me always having a black cloud over my head – that thing that seemed at once both rich in metaphor and poetically hackneyed – well, it’s true. I can see it there now. It’s directly … over … my … head.”
“I’m not going out,” she cowers behind a small dog. “Did you see the lightning? I don’t want to be struck by the lightning.”
“You won’t be,” I continue this slightly ridiculous cinematic tone for just a little while longer. “It will be I who receives the jolt. And when it happens, I want you to wait precisely 12 minutes before calling the authorities. I do not want anybody … anybody! ... to see me writhing out the last bits of agony left in this forlorn solitude of pith and rancor. I must have dignity.”
Or a drink. We’ve stumbled through the under-the-interstate apocalypse of asbestos and homeless urine and onto Church Street for what promises to be a thematic diversion of predictably homosexual parameters. Newcomer Hamburger Mary’s – an unexpected hotspot for the gays who eat -– is making its go at cross-purposing this week with the launch of Hambingo Mary’s, meaning they’re doing that cabaret crossover thing that links the gays with the olds: bingo. To do it effectively, and with the proper wig-hair count, they’ve enlisted the venerable Twisted Sisters, Miss Sammy (Singhaus) and Carol Lee (Matthew Archer). All of which sounds perfectly fine if you ignore the fact that any compound misuse of the term “ham” is a signifier of eternal doom.
“Everybody hide and pretend nothing is happening!” Miss Sammy squawks from the corner stage as we swing open the door. “Surprise!”
Indeed! Gone is the black-and-white of the outside industrial awful, and in its place appears the Technicolor awful of a thousand Facts of Life, late-era, “Over Our Heads,” blow-up flamingo novelty flashbacks. Every shade of greenish-blue-pink imaginable has been splattered and juxtaposed into a loose approximation of the great ’80s neon hope. I need a Clooney, and a stiff one.
“He’s the one who called me Phyllis Diller,” Carol Lee Rosemary Clooneys, “when I was actually doing Carol Channing.”
That’s not what I had in mind. Anyway, both of the “sisters” have been poured into short, stretchy purple dresses and topped with blond wigs (Sammy’s, it should be noted, is teased to epic, fingered-in-the-Jersey-woods proportions) in a stunning attempt to resemble the restaurant’s namesake Mary. If there was any pre-show coaching, certainly the word “bawdy” was employed. Every time some hapless wet redneck ambles by the front window on his way to the Cheyenne Saloon (“Look! It’s Yankel the cowboy Jew!”), at least one of the entertainers is tripping over “her” self to press “her” goods up against the glass.
“Go ahead,” Lee goads at one point. “Show ’em your canned ham!”
And that brings us back to ham. Speaking of which, Sammy’s erstwhile bingo co-host, Michael Wanzie – the two do a similar revue at Parliament House every Wednesday – is given a quick post–Gay Days homage (“He’s probably in a K-hole at Arabian Nights with 18 pairs of socks coming out of his pocket”), and then it’s off to the alpha-numeric task at hand. Karen, slightly overwhelmed by the feast of colors, bawdy banter and appetizers comprising variations on fried cheese, is at a bit of a loss. When the ladies call an “N” number, her face goes white.
“There is no ‘N,’” she fidgets. “Where’s the ‘N’?”
“It’s between the ‘I’ and the ‘G,’” I rattle like an early bird.
In the ensuing hours, we’ll enjoy both “straight bingo” and “bottom bingo” interspersed with bits of personal history, restaurant-friendly jokes about salmonella and hepatitis, trivia about Roseanne Barr and Matt Damon, and the Oz-like sense that this is all a concussive distraction no doubt brought on by too many cocktails and the end of the world – a hilarious offering of discomfort that doesn’t so much assuage thoughts of doom as entertain them. We’re inside and in color, but the lightning intended for the fourth hair atop my head is always just a few steps away, outside. There will be an end, and it will probably be soon.
“You know I love you,” slurs Carol Lee as we make our exit. “I’m just joking when I talk about you. Now go write about it.”
Again, not what I had in mind. But as we trip our way down Church Street’s engraved cobblestones, something close to the big finale, the great sign from above that I will indeed be knocked to the ground for all of eternity, does trickle its way into my headspace. The door to the Cheyenne Saloon swings open, and from inside this is what we hear: “Now this is one of my favorite moves. You swing your leg around like this, put your hand on your hip, and take one step to the side.”
The lightning strikes. And the thunder email@example.com