Wednesday, December 31, 2014


by Mary Elizabeth Raines

I blame it on the Contessa. She started it all when she serenaded us by singing Tiny Bubbles. A TV show called the Gong Show also figured prominently in this love affair, because, yes, it was a love affair. Sigh. It all began on a November evening in 1975…

First, let me tell you about the Contessa. When I knew her, she was probably in her 70s, and insisted, rather haughtily, that people address her by her title: Contessa. I don’t know her real name. There were rumors that she and her husband were actually royalty from some obscure European country. (I kind of suspect that she herself was responsible for starting those rumors, but then, what do I know about royalty in obscure European countries?)

The Contessa was not tall, but I remember her as a woman of substance. She possessed a heaving bosom, a double chin and a fleshy waist. Her ample midsection was offset by numerous stiff layers of ruffles in the skirt of the faded, green ball gown she always wore, a dress that looked as though it could have belonged to a cast member of Gone With the Wind, or maybe a character from a Dickens’ novel. Dancing slippers completed the outfit. She didn’t really walk; instead she tiptoed and waltzed around the room in little, silly, prancing steps. I think she was trying to be delicate. Perhaps she hoped that people would envision her as floating across the floor like a sailing ship, which was something women of her generation thought admirable, although, sadly, her movements were more like those of a tugboat on choppy waters.

The Contessa’s heavily powered face had arching eyebrows that had been artfully drawn onto her forehead with eyebrow pencil, and her sagging cheeks were flushed with dainty circles of pink rouge. You are probably ascertaining that she fit a certain type, and as a member of that type, it goes without saying that her lipstick was smudged high up over her lips in exaggerated, I-Love-Lucy cupid’s bows.

Please understand that I am not criticizing the Contessa for this. As I age, I am growing fleshy, too. And I recognize the irresistible urge to wear the same outfits and makeup that made me look cute as heck when I was 19; unfortunately, having passed the age of 60, whenever I do that, I wind up looking more like a goofy old clown than a precious young thing. Even so, sometimes I can’t help myself; I cave in and go for it. At such times, I wear far too much makeup and stand around saying smart things like, “That’s groovy, man.” So I understand perfectly the mindset of this elderly woman in her green ball gown. I really look like THAT?!
To accessorize the gown, our Contessa wore just about every piece of jewelry she owned, and all at the same time, too. Her chest was blinding, covered with flashing brooches and glittering layers of necklaces, and her pudgy, aging arms jingled with bands of bracelets.

She was, if not exactly a flirt, quite coquettish, fluttering from table to table, sometimes leaning down and pressing her withered rouged cheek near to that of some youthful fellow, as though teasing him to kiss her. Again, I get it completely.

But now let’s go back to the very beginning. I was a young single woman who, at 10:30 p.m. on a November night, had just left my comfy bed with reluctance, and had driven to Sarno’s Caffe dell'Opera on Vermont Street in Los Feliz, a section of Los Angeles that borders Hollywood. The area was relatively safe in those days. Sarno’s served Italian food and they had a pastry shop.

In the evenings, Sarno’s Cafe became magical. Strangers would be seated at marble tables next to other strangers, and everyone drank wine and espresso, and anyone who wanted could get up and sing. There was an excellent pianist accompanying the singers. Most folks sang opera, but a few people, like the Contessa, preferred to sing pop songs. Like Tiny Bubbles. Some of the singers were very good. Some were not. In its heydey, Sarno’s was frequented by the likes of Tony Bennett, Sophia Loren, and even old blue eyes, Sinatra himself.

Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library-posted with permission
There were plenty of less-famous regulars who hung out at Sarno’s. It was all new to me. I had only recently moved to Los Angeles, and had discovered the place just a few days before.

On the night in question, I’d been crying somewhat melodramatically to my best friend, a vivacious gay man, about my desperately lonely state and my inability to meet men. (Ye gods, my situation was appalling. Nearly 24 hours had passed since my last date! What was I to do?!) My friend sagely suggested that if I wanted to meet someone new, it wasn’t likely to happen if I remained in my bed, complaining. He prodded me to get up, get dressed, and go out someplace…anyplace.

I did. Where else could I go at 10:30 on a Saturday night but to Sarno’s? I lived nearby. After I arrived, since all the tables were shared, the first thing I did was look around for someone safe and comfortable to sit next to. I found the perfect someone, an elderly, harmless-looking guy whose name was Miguel. He was one of the regulars. Miguel wore a cheap, obvious toupee, and he told me that he was an artist. Some of his paintings were displayed high on the walls of Sarno’s. They looked a little clumsy to me, not unlike Miguel himself. My new friend proudly added that he was also a singer.

Here is where the Gong Show comes in. Some years after the Sarno’s incident, I was killing time one day by watching the Gong Show. If you’re not familiar with it, this mind-numbing TV nonsense from the late 1970s was hosted by a wired and weird guy named Chuck Barris. Here’s how it worked: assorted guests would perform—play music, sing, dance, juggle, tell jokes, you name it. There were three hip judges and a gigantic gong on the set. If any one of the judges disliked someone’s performance, they would jump up out of their seat, rush over and hit the gong. The interrupted performer would have to stop. The show was sometimes funny, and sometimes cruel.

And as I watched, who should appear as a guest but Miguel—yes, my very own Miguel from Sarno’s, still wearing the same toupee! He sang an aria. He was promptly gonged and also ridiculed, although he didn’t look as though he minded very much. I saw him again on two subsequent Gong Show reruns, and he got gonged on each of those, too. The gong-strikers were right. He really didn’t sing very well.

My connection to the Gong Show is even stranger than that. About 25 years after my fated visit to Sarno’s Caffe dell'Opera, I became friends with a woman who happened to be a world-famous stripper, porn star, and cult figure. She had gigantic breasts the size of human heads. For the sake of anonymity, I will call her Lotsa Lotty (although when one has shown the world all the parts that she has displayed on the giant silver screen—in close-up yet!—I don’t think anonymity would really be in question).

Anyway. Lotsa Lotty, I discovered, had also been on the Gong Show! She told me, giggling, that she had played a French maid who came onstage wearing high heels, a short, short skirt, and a low, low blouse. Her “talent” was dusting. She bent wa-a-ay down over various objects, dusting them with a feather duster. She, like Miguel, ended up being gonged.

In fact, dusting wasn’t far from the truth of who she really was. She loved to clean, you see. With her hair up in curlers, she would wear glasses and an old frumpy housecoat, and sweep her patio ceaselessly while she talked on her phone to customers, for when I knew her, she was earning a living doing phone sex.

I remember passing Lotsa Lotty while she was sweeping outdoors one day, wearing big fuzzy slippers and a shapeless bathrobe. From behind the thick lenses of her glasses, she looked over at me and gave me a bright smile and a wave, dustpan in hand. At the same time, in a low panting voice, while adjusting a curler, she was saying to her caller, “Oh yeah, baby, I can taste it. Yeah, I can taste it….”

Sometimes when I passed her place, I would hear screaming. It would momentarily frighten me. Then I would realize that Lotsa was just paying her bills. (Certain customers, she later revealed, insisted that she scream at pertinent points in their, um, conversation.)

But I digress. Lotsa Lotty told me that when she had been on the Gong Show, a very handsome and famous movie star—someone you would know!—saw her, got a little crush on her, and wangled an introduction. They dated.

Now, Lotsa had dated plenty of famous Hollywood actors, but this particular guy was different. She confided in me that not only was he extraordinarily endowed; he was the best lover she’d ever had. And of course, I don’t know for sure, but I strongly suspect that Lotsa had entertained SCADS more lovers than most of us!

It wasn’t just that Handsome Movie Star was her best lover ever. He also treated her beautifully. He was unfailingly courteous, romantic, and kind—everything a woman could want. He actually even opened car doors for her! Guys, take note: we women really like that.

“So what happened with him?” I asked, after she revealed all of this to me.

“Oh, he wanted me to take a vacation with him, sorta like a honeymoon, at this tropical paradise," she said. "But I didn’t go.” She returned to her sweeping.

“Did you have to work? You couldn’t get the time off?” I asked excitedly.

“No, not that,” she said. “I could’ve gone. But I said no.” She attacked some dust in a corner.

“Lotsa!” I exclaimed, “This famous movie star was the best lover you ever had in your life, he treated you like a queen, he absolutely adored you, he invited you to a tropical paradise for a little honeymoon…and you didn’t go?! Why not?!!?”

You have to understand the absolutely humorless, matter-of-fact way in which Lotsa Lotty replied to my question. Her answer, to me, exemplifies Hollywood.

“I couldn’t go,” she said, “because MY HUSBAND WOULDN’T LET ME.” (Emphasis mine.)

Back to Sarno’s. As I sat next to Miguel, of Gong Show fame, I said to him, “Listen, Miguel, you know the characters who come in here, and I want to be careful. If I start talking with some guy who’s a bad sort, would you let me know? Just nudge me with your elbow, okay?”

Miguel liked that, the role of being my protector. He leaned back in his seat and smiled.

And then I saw Him. He was standing in line, waiting for a place at a table to open up. (Sarno’s had lines.) He was sooo handsome and hunky—dark hair, dark beard, dark brooding eyes—a real Latin Lover Man. When he was finally seated, it was at the table next to ours. I noticed that he ordered a bottle of wine and kept to himself, not conversing with the other people around him.

After a while, everyone at his table left. He sat alone. And there was an empty chair next to me. Seizing my chance, I called over to Latin Lover Man, trying to sound delightfully casual, while my heart thumped with embarrassment.

“Why don’t you join us?” I crowed in a chipper falsetto. “No one should be alone on a Saturday night!”

An elbow suddenly dug into my side. Miguel hissed into my ear, “Watch out! He’s one of them!”

Ignoring Miguel’s furiously insistent elbow, I continued to plead with Latin Lover Man.

The object of my affection glanced up at me and muttered, “I’m a loner.”

I didn’t understand him. His Spanish accent was so thick that I had to ask him twice what he’d just said. Somehow, if you have to keep repeating the phrase, “I’m a loner,” it doesn’t have quite the same intensity the third time around. With his bubble of isolation popped, to my immense joy Latin Lover Man picked up his bottle of wine and came to sit next to me.

Miguel nudged me more violently, whispering ever-louder warnings, until I became annoyed. I told him, sotto voce, to stop. “All right,” he shrugged. “Whatever you want. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though.”

Here’s where the Contessa comes in. Did you think I’d forgotten about the Contessa? Not a chance! In her green ball gown, she placed some sheet music in front of the pianist, then pranced over to our table and serenaded us. Her aged voice was wobbly with an out-of-control tremulo. The Contessa sang Tiny Bubbles. She sang it quite badly. It was the start of my greatest romance.

The Latin Lover Man’s name was Juan. I learned that after making him repeat his name four times. In the beginning, my half of our conversations consisted mostly of me saying, “What? Hunh?” Eventually I figured out how to decipher his accent. He became my husband, and the father of our child, and then my ex-husband. But always my good friend.

My Latin Lover and Me
Here’s something weird. When I first came to Los Angeles, without knowing anything at all of the city, I was driving up and down random streets looking for a place to rent when I spotted a charming Victorian house tucked away with a sign on the lawn that said ROOMS. I was drawn to this house almost as if I had been magnetized. The man who answered the door said, “Oh honey, you seem very sweet, but I’m sorry; we only rent to men.” As I left, I felt strangely disappointed.

Later, I discovered that of all the places I could have chosen in this immense megapolis with its population of millions, the first property that attracted me happened to be the very same house where my future husband was living!

Juan also revealed something fascinating, or perhaps fated. Earlier on the night we'd met, he had been exhausted and was driving home to his room in the Victorian house, ready to climb into bed. Suddenly, he said, it was as if a hand reached down and stopped him. Then and there, without thinking, he did a sharp U-turn in the middle of the road and headed towards Sarno’s, because something told him he had to stop there that night. That happened right around the same time I'd pulled myself out of bed and, from the other direction, was also dragging myself to Sarno’s.

By the way, Juan wasn’t really a loner. And Miguel was wrong.

As for the Caffe dell'Opera, the devoted owner, Alberto Sarno, was tragically murdered a few years later and after a few more years, they closed their doors for good. I never found out what happened to the Contessa.

(c) 2010, Mary Elizabeth Raines
Copying or reproducing in any form prohibited by law
Please feel free to link to this story

See Mary Elizabeth Raines' newly released novel UNA, now available on Amazon

Friday, December 19, 2014

THE BEST APPLE EVER (A Very Short Story)

by Mary Elizabeth (Leach) Raines

It was the best apple ever. There can only be one, and this was it. Never before or since on earth would there be an apple so outstandingly, scrumptiously good.

Along with thousands of its lesser siblings, the apple got shipped to a supermarket, where some lucky guy picked it out of a bin. His mind was on things other than spectacular apples, though. It fell and he gave it a kick. The apple rolled against the refrigeration unit and lay there, bruised, until the produce manager found it and threw it away.

Sometimes I feel like that apple. 

© 2014, M. E. Raines
Copying or reproducing in any manner prohibited by law
Please feel free, however, to link to this story.

Monday, November 17, 2014


(c) 2011

It was the early 1980s, and I was driving to the East Coast to reconnect with a man whom I hadn’t seen for years. In my youth, what a crush I’d had on this sweet unsuspecting fellow! He, however, had never shown the slightest interest in me beyond that of a cordial friendship.

Now, more than 15 years later, I was going to visit him.
And his wife.
And his children.

Before I proceed any further, let me interject a disclaimer: I am not a shallow woman. I hold in disdain the kind of people who focus on superficialities and appearances. To me, a janitor has the same worth as a CEO; an 85-year-old grandma with a face full of wrinkles and hairs on her chin wearing K-Mart sweatpants is just as important to me as the latest hot Hollywood star boasting jewels and a designer gown.

Speaking of Hollywood… While working some years ago on the set of the TV show West Wing as a Professional Background Actor (translation: as an extra), I had the pleasure of meeting the show’s star, Martin Sheen. Sheen was an activist and a good guy. He’d even been jailed for his activism. He refused to discriminate against anyone; he treated his producers no differently from the way he treated me.

One night, when the cast was being transported some distance for a shoot at an airport, rather than use a limo, Sheen hopped into the van that was carrying all of us extras. 

He plopped down right in front of me, sitting next to an old wizened fellow.

“Where are you from?” Sheen asked the man amiably.
“I just got out of  prison,” the old guy answered. “I’m on parole.”
“No kidding!” exclaimed Sheen happily, clapping the man across his back. “Me too!”

His enthusiasm was not fake. He was simply the kind of person who refused to buy into status or appearances.
Like me. 

That being said, it was my intention to appear as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as I possibly could at my reunion with The Unrequited Crush. 

Why did I care so much how I looked for a man who had never even seemed to notice that I was a girl?

Well, if my host were to see me in all my splendor and appreciate the alluring vision I presented, and if he were, as a result, to experience even the slightest pang of regret at having never seized the opportunity of indulging in me when he’d had the chance…I certainly wouldn’t mind!

As for his wife, who was a talented and smart woman, my stunning appearance wouldn’t do any damage to her either. It could only serve to boost her confidence, since my former not-beau had chosen her when he could have had me, the jaw-droppingly gorgeous female! How could she not feel good about herself?

Talk about win-win-win!

The only problem—and it was a daunting one—was that of looking jaw-droppingly gorgeous. As soon as the date for our reunion drew near, I knew that I had work to do, for I am not a natural beauty. External devices would be required.

To this end, I deliberated for hours about exactly how I would style my hair.
I went on a crash diet.
I bought new underpants.

The rest of my wardrobe fell into place when a friend offered me a hand-me-down blouse. It was an expensive silky blouse that was quite flattering on me. I had no idea how she could part with such an exquisite garment. (I would, to my great dismay, find out later.)

The day of the meeting finally came. I dressed both with excitement and immense care before the long drive, wearing the new underpants, pulling on my sexiest open-toed high heels and, of course, putting on the flowing blouse.

It was a dreadfully humid day, so I decided that I wouldn’t attend to my makeup until I got close to my destination. Granted, I looked a little pasty-faced, but that was preferable to arriving on the doorstep of my youthful love interest with smeary lips, blotchy rouge, and raccoon eyes from melting eye-makeup.

I patted down the natural frizz of my hair, and then sprayed it mercilessly until it was as hard as the aluminum siding on a suburban tract house, hoping to close off all possible escape routes for even the smallest bit of fuzz. Just in case, though, I stuck a few bobby pins in my hardened hair at weird but key places. I would remove the bobby pins when I put on my makeup.

And I was off!

After several hours, my gas gauge began dipping down near the empty mark. I was driving on a crowded turnpike skirting New York City, so I exited into the designated gas station. Self-service had not yet become the norm, and this station was one of the kind where attendants still pumped the gas for their customers.

Do ever I miss those gas stations today! In most respects I am an ardent feminist, a woman’s libber from way back, but I’m sorry: pumping gas is just plain unfeminine.

I am not the only evolved woman who believes this. A childhood friend of mine named Joyce Jillson actually wrote a book once called Real Women Don’t Pump Gas. It was a clever response to another popular book that came out in the 80s called Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.

In her book, Joyce drew a chart that showed the highlights of a woman’s life. Almost at the top of the chart was losing your virginity. At the very top? Telling your friends you lost your virginity.

Here is something interesting about the author. She eventually became an astrologer, and she was one of the astrologers whom Nancy Reagan secretly consulted while hubby Ronald was president. She also chose the astrologically fortuitous date for the release of the movie Star Wars.

I knew Joyce before her astrology days. She lived next door to me when I was in the third grade. We didn’t have blogs back then, but we did the next best thing: Joyce and my sister and I put our heads together and created a neighborhood newspaper. We tried diligently to sell copies to people on our block; they only cost a nickel, but our readership never went beyond about five people. We put out two editions before we turned our attention to something else.

Back to pumping gas: Joyce was right. It is not something a woman should ever have to do, at least not this woman.
Why not?
First, whenever I  pump gasoline, some of it always seems to dribble on my shoes.
Second, my fingers wind up smelling like Exxon instead of Shalimar.
Third, I always feel icky when I have to grab onto a nasty gasoline pump handle that untold others have held. God knows where their hands have been!

So. It was a relief that someone else would be pumping my gas for me on this special occasion. I was especially glad because of the open-toed shoes I was wearing. It doesn’t feel good when gasoline drips through one’s nylons onto one’s toes. (Probably you have to be a woman to understand.)

The gas station attendant sauntered over to my car, and I rolled the window down. He was a scowling young black man wearing a grimy bandana across his forehead. His sweat-drenched tank top revealed muscular arms, and he spoke in a thick inner-city dialect which I couldn’t understand. He looked like he might be the member of a gang. A mean gang.

“Yeah?” he muttered in a surly voice. At least that’s what I think he said. His attitude meter was set on high.
“Fill ‘er up,” I said with a perky smile, pretending to be oblivious to the fact that he was scowling at me.

Racial prejudice was rampant in the early 1980s. Integration was still a recent concept. Mainstream role models like Obama and Oprah were young and unknown, and The Cosby Show, which would accomplish more to delete bigotry from people’s minds and hearts than any law could ever hope to do, wasn’t even on the air yet.

It was a really rough time to be black, young, and male.

I watched this gas-station attendant with growing compassion, thinking about how hard it must be for someone like him to find a job that paid a decent living; obviously pumping fuel in a dumpy gas station on a congested turnpike would be no one’s deliberate career choice. It was probably the only work this poor guy could find. His life must be lousy. It wasn’t fair.

I understood.

Unfortunately, I became smitten with the insane urge to make it clear to him that I understood.
We liberals do that sometimes.

When he had finished filling the tank and came to take my money, I launched an energetic barrage of sympathetic chatter at him.

“Wow, what a hot day,” I said, oozing empathy as I opened up my purse. “It’s got to be tough working in this kind of heat…”

I beamed my best “I’m-not-prejudiced” smile at him. He avoided making eye contact with me.

Determined to connect, I kept on chattering. Words spilled out of my mouth at a rapid pace.

“…Have you worked here long? It can’t be easy to find a job these days. Do you live in New York? Do you commute from there?...”

He didn’t answer. The more I chattered, the further he pulled away. The further he pulled away, the more desperately I tried to draw him in. I would prove to him that I was no bigot! I would make him see how much I cared, damn it!

“…because I don’t know what I would have done if I’d run out of gas on the turnpike in this heat. When it’s so hot outdoors, you must feel absolutely exhausted at the end of the day…”

As I blabbered, the observer part of me stood off to one side, utterly aghast.

“…Or maybe not. Maybe you don’t get tired. I mean, look at your muscles…”

Yikes. Now I not only had to let him know that I understood him and had compassion for him, but also that I wasn’t hitting on him!

“…Oh, it's not that I’m staring at your muscles!” I giggled, my voice artificially high. “I just said ‘look at your muscles’ because they show how strong you are, you know, so you probably don’t get tired as easily…”

I was floundering, unable to extricate myself, sucked so deeply into the whirlpool of my own fatuous jabbering that I had no choice but to persist.

“…and because of how much you’re sweating...but wait, now. I don't mean that you’re sweating too much! No way! It’s so hot! Hey, I’m sweating too. Everyone’s sweating. We’re all sweating…”

Avoiding the onslaught of the well-intended words pouring from my mouth, he held himself as far away from me as he possibly could, taking my money with a stiff arm. There was something peculiar in his facial expression; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. As he started to hand me my change, he made very sure not to touch me, or even to brush my hand by accident.

“…Why, thank you for the change. No, no, no, don’t be silly. You don’t have to count it out for me. I trust you…”

And that was a lie, because I didn’t trust him. I felt compassion for his circumstances, I’m sure his path had been difficult, I would’ve liked to have given him a break, but that did not belie the fact that he was a menacing-looking man and by no means did I trust him.

On and on I rambled as he gave me the last of my change. Despite the fact that my mission had failed, despite the fact that I knew how goofy I sounded, I couldn’t stop talking.

Maybe it was the heat.

The guy’s expression, meanwhile, had compressed into something so unreachable that I’d have had better success at getting on a flight to the moon than of establishing any sort of rapport with him.

With crude mercy, kind of like shooting a crippled horse, he finally put an end to our mutual misery by stalking away from me right in the middle of one of my long, rabidly rambling sentences. He shook his head as he walked away.

Defeated, humbled, but mostly relieved, I called out a final weak goodbye and reached for the key to turn on the ignition. As I did so, I glanced at my reflection in the rearview mirror—and I saw, to my horror, the vision I had presented to the young man at the pumps.

See, in those days I needed glasses to drive. I owned some fashionable aviator-style glasses, but they were so bottom-heavy that whenever I wore them, they left deep red creases in the middle of my cheeks. The indentations would remain on my face for hours, looking like fiery wrinkles.

Needless to say, in my guise of being a spectacular beauty, I wasn’t going to wear glasses while visiting the former desire of my heart, nor did I intend to appear at his front door with dark red gouges in my cheeks.

So on the last rest stop before this one, when I went to the bathroom, I’d grabbed two large handfuls of toilet paper before exiting the stall. In the car, I had shoved these wads of paper mindlessly under the bottom rims of my glasses to protect my cheeks. Then I promptly forgot about it. As I gazed in the rearview mirror, I saw that the toilet paper was still there on my cheeks, two big crumpled puffs of it, with tails of perforated squares streaming down both sides of my face.

Furthermore, my gorgeous new silky blouse, which I was wearing for the very first time, had somehow become unbuttoned. That, it turns out, is why my friend wanted to get rid of it. I’m not talking about one or two buttons here. All the buttons had come undone. The blouse had slipped back to the sides, fully exposing me in my bra.

There sat I, grinning too hard and chattering like a crazed blue jay at that poor guy, with toilet paper wafting over my cheeks, bobby pins stuck in my hair at weird angles, and my open blouse fluttering in the breeze...

I imagine he tells his friends about me to this day. Maybe I’m on a blog somewhere.

(c) M. E. Raines, 2011
Copying or reproducing in any form prohibited by law.
Please feel free to link to this article.

Friday, September 12, 2014


© 2014, M. E. Raines

“The hive of the honeybee centers around its queen. When the hive needs a new queen, the workers select several larvae from eggs that had been laid in the cells of the honeycomb by the previous queen. The  workers feed these larvae a special substance called royal jelly and the cells they inhabit are later sealed. Because of the royal jelly, the larvae in these particular cells will eventually turn into queen bees. 

“Upon hatching, the very first queen to emerge from her cell begins to make a high-pitched piping sound. She sings to her still-unhatched sisters. From within their cells, they sing back to her. Tracing the location of their cells by the sound of their calls, she finds each of her unborn sisters and stings them to death. This is because there can only be one queen bee.”

Her name was Bodacious Bea and the club where she performed was called, ironically, The Beehive. Bodacious Bea had soft tawny-colored skin, fleshy breasts, and flawless, if spectacularly overdone, makeup. Her glitter-strewn scarlet hair was perfectly curled and coifed, piled high on her head.

On the past Thanksgiving, Bea’s brother had commented rudely about the color of her hair. “That shade of red is not even in the spectrum,” he had remarked, mumbling through a mouth crammed with stuffing and mashed potatoes. “It’s just wrong. Like seeing a blue popsicle.”

He did not approve of her being a drag queen. None of her family did. She consoled herself with the thought that even Jesus couldn’t preach in his home town.

Despite the sneers of her brother, Bodacious Bea was clearly the star act at The Beehive. And everyone always told her that they loved her hair!

“What makes me so special,” she said haughtily in a recent radio interview, enunciating each word carefully and lisping ever so slightly, “is my size. I am sooo not one of those gargantuan, ludicrous imposters. You can see right through them in a second. I am only 5’4”, and except for certain portions of my anatomy, I am very petite.” She rolled her “r” when she said the word very. With a little giggle, she added, “I am feminine, you see, to the hilt.

Night after night, audiences screamed their approval of Bodacious Bea. She had a bit where would return for a curtain call and stand in the spotlight. As the roars subsided, she would bat her eyelashes and cry to the audience, “Ooh, you naughty men! You make me want to throw my panties at you!” Of course, this made them begin to cheer her loudly all over again.

In her mind, it was indisputable: she was the queen of the queens…or she would have been if it weren’t for her rivals, Kurvee Kittee and Luscious Lou-Lou.

It was almost time for the show. Bea was punctual, and she was always ready well before everyone else. Emerging from her dressing room, wearing a snug turquoise sheath that glittered with the garish reflections from thousands of embedded rhinestones, Bodacious Bea minced confidently down the backstage hallway. Her dress was so tight that she had no choice but to mince. It wasn't a problem. She liked to mince.

In a high-pitched piping voice, Bea sang out, “Kittee! Kittee? Where are you? I so need to see you!”

Kurvee Kittee had galloped in only a few minutes ago, and she was decidedly grumpy. From one of the dressing rooms, a masculine voice growled, “What the hell do you want? I’m late, damn it.”

Whenever Kittee was stressed, she fell out of character. She could be decidedly unfeminine. This bothered Bea, who wished that Kittee’s fans could hear her now. Bea herself was always genuine; she never forgot for a moment who and where she was.

Bea opened the door to the dressing room from which the voice had sounded. Kittee, in her underwear, sat awkwardly on a stool before the mirror, legs splayed for balance, and was frantically attempting to glue her false eyelashes on. They kept falling off. Kittee’s red-smeared lips were curled back in a furious, impatient snarl.

Posturing coquettishly with one hand on her hip, Bea moved in behind Kittee and shook her head at the scene. “Oh Kittee, darling,” she crooned, “You always have so much trouble with your makeup...." She leaned in more closely and murmured softly, "You know, honey, I’m not sure you really belong here. You should leave.”

Kittee swiveled angrily around on her stool. She seemed to be preparing to shout obscenities at Bea, but she choked on her words as the latter waggled her hips and departed swiftly from the dressing room.

Re-entering the hallway, Bea turned in a new direction and, in a high-pitched falsetto, trilled out, “Lou-Lou? Oh, Lo-o-o-u? Where are yo-o-o-u?”

“I’m here, Bea, in wardrobe. And oh my god, I need help!”

The sad wobbly alto voice came from behind the clothing rack in the costume department. Bea sashayed over to the gleaming, gaudy garments. It was easy to spot Lou-Lou. 
She hovered high over the rack of clothes, for she was nearly a foot taller than Bea, and she was decidedly not thin. Nobody else was present in the room except for the two drag queens.

Unlike Kittee, Lou-Lou never lost sight of her feminity, but still, in Bea’s mind, she was always just a little bit off the mark. Yes, Lou-Lou tried too hard, but it wasn’t that. Trying too hard and being over the top were expected of the girls. Lou-Lou’s height was a flaw in Bea’s mind, but most of Lou-Lou’s fans enjoyed her gigantic frame. No, the problem was that Lou was just…pathetic. There was something whiney and droopy about her. Her voice constantly quavered and she always seemed ready to burst into tears. Granted, she did a good Judy Garland, despite her size, but otherwise, Bea felt that Lou-Lou was distressingly inferior.

“I just cannot find a thing to wear tonight,” the tall queen moaned helplessly. “I’m retaining water and it’s made me puffy. Nothing fits!”

Bea wanted to make a bitchy comment about the three puffy beers and two puffy cheesteak subs that Lou-Lou had wolfed down last night when they went out after the show, but she held her tongue.

Grabbing a large-sized emerald green frock from the rack and moving around to the other side to get closer to Lou-Lou, she warbled, “Why don’t you try this one on, dear?”

The dress served as a shield when she stabbed Lou-Lou. She didn’t want any more blood to spatter her turquoise gown the way it had when she had cut Kittee’s throat…although she realized that the audience might simply see the red spots as a wonderfully chic way of balancing out the glorious red color of her hair.

That night Bea gave the most splendid performance she’d ever given! The audience went wild! They loved her! They couldn’t get enough of her! It was the best night of her life. Bodacious Bea was truly the queen of queens!

A year later, sitting with her legs crossed on a chair in her prison cell, impatiently thumbing through a magazine, she came across the article describing the behavior of honeybee queens. Bea reflected sadly upon this. Why did the rules for one species have to be so different for another? She sighed, and wished she could freshen her lipstick. They would not let her wear her makeup in prison.

It wasn’t so bad, though. She still quite popular. She looked good in orange. And she was the only queen on her cell block.