The dressing room we’d been shown to for the Christmas show was a combination of all the worst attributes of the most dismal dressing rooms I’d ever seen. It may not even be fair to include it such a roundup since it was, technically, not a room at all but a hallway: part of an emergency exit in the basement between a dance club and the elevator up to our bar. A single florescent strip was stuck to the ceiling some thirty feet up, flickering off a filthy grey cement floor and tall cinderblock walls, and this distant shimmering gave the walls an illusion of movement, as if you were being shut in, buried alive.
It was cold, there were no tables or mirrors or rods upon which to hang clothing: just the sticky floor, with its dustbunnies and ambiguous grime. Every now and then the door to the gay bar would suddenly open, bringing thunderous bass and orange/blue disco lights and Gaga and some inquisitive face peering through — we would all yelp as it shouted “so what’s this door lead to anyway?”
For my act, I would be performing to “Blue Christmas,” as sung by the troupe leader. I would play it as a weeping protester to Minnesota governor candidate Tom Emmer’s concession, dragging along a bottle of wine and my gigantic protest sign that read “RE-RECOUNT” on both sides. I sobbed through the audience and clambered gracelessly onto the carpeted stage, mascara running all over my face, crystal tears adhered to my cheeks; I made out with his framed image. O Emmer! Who will save marriage now?
The eye make-up was my favorite part. I was the first act after intermission, so I’d rush down the elevator about three acts before and peer on my knees into the mirror someone had leaned underneath the florescent strip, painting long dripping lines onto my face with black liquid eyeliner and carefully plucking each crystal from its adhesive sheet with laced fingers. I wore two sets of false eyelashes, glittering white and blue shadow, and a few minutes before I was slated to head back upstairs I’d slip off my boots and put on the heels — that’s a lesson I learned a while ago. Save foot discomfort for last (no matter how cute they are).
The first night the act went over well, and I squirmed my way back through the audience and whooosh, down the elevator. The doors opened to a man in a big red suit pulling curlers out of someone’s hair.
“You still going to be one of my girls?” Santa asked.
“Oh! Oh right, yes. Let me just throw some clothes on. How much time do we have?”
“Five minutes, max. We’re the next act.”
“Yikes, okay! I’m on it.”
I pulled off fishnets and lace gloves, slipped on opaque tights, found my slip, a gold shimmering skirt, a black dress shirt. One minute! Thank you one!
“Hey, is it all right if my eyes are still weepy for your piece?” I called down the dark hallway. “Or . . . does all of this need to come off?”
“What? What?” Santa came bumbling toward me. “Oh, that. No that needs to come off. Hurry up now we’re almost on.”
I looked around in panic. “I have cold cream but nothing to wipe it off with. Do you have a tissue?”
“What? No, no. Just use panties or something.”
I was slathering the cold cream all over, and my cheeks had become a grey blue paste. “I didn’t bring any spares. You don’t have a towel or anything? A t-shirt?”
“No, no. Here,” he grabbed a white satin glove out of someone’s trunk. “Just use this.”
I stared at him in disbelief through goopy eyes. “John. How many enemies do you want me to make tonight?”
“C’mon it’ll be fine! We have to go!”
“I’m not ruining someone’s glove.”
He turned down the hallway and shouted “ten seconds, ladies! Let’s go!” Then he reached down and pulled off his sock, handing it to me. “Here.”
There were two seconds of hesitation. I’d taken the worn sock from him, was holding it in my hand. I stared at myself in the mirror: nightmarishly frosted in grey and blue, shimmering and undead in that buzz of florescent light. We have to go, we’re on in 10. I rubbed his sock all over my face, dug it into my eyes, slathered on more cold cream and smeared it off over and over until all the evidence was gone and I was back: a nice looking girl.
Upstairs, Santa patted his lap.