A Web Portal For Lesbians Of Color
Chapter 9: “Happy Birthday”
Author: Laurinda D. Brown
Publication Date: October 2003
When Phyllis Hyman did “Meet Me on the Moon,” she probably never thought about a diva like Lady Champaign putting her own little spin to it. Every drag queen in the city of Memphis tried to imitate Miss Phyllis. But only one had mastered it, and that was Lady Champaign.
“Ladies and gentlemen, The Closet would like to welcome you to ‘Lady Champaign’s Revue.’ She’s been gone for a long time, but now she’s back. Formerly known as Miss Nay, the Madame has been dancing here on Saturdays for a while now, and the response has been overwhelming. So tonight, and only for tonight, she’s all yours. Please welcome to the stage Lady Champaign.” The building rumbled with applause. Chris and Iysha had the best seats in the house. Chris watched Iysha guzzle half of her champagne. Her sister was hurting, and the events of the next half-hour weren’t going to make her feel any better. “You okay?” Chris asked.
Iysha shook her head and joined in with her own applause. She was mellowing out, loosening up for her evening out with her sister.
A black mesh background slowly lowered from the rafters, and attached to the screen-like material was a gigantic hologram of a rose. When moved in one direction, the rose bloomed; when shifted the other way, it blossomed, and when moved again, it wilted and died. The mesh fabric sparkled as the midnight blue mural painted on the back wall of the stage was illuminated.
The prelude to “Meet Me on the Moon” was longer than usual, but no one seemed to notice. Rudy had a hook-up at the 12-inch record shop in D.C. and kept long versions of all the old and new music. As the lights raised just enough to cast a shadow over the orchestra section, a curvaceous silhouette was revealed. The figure, obviously that of a well-shaped woman, was adorned in a sequined cape whose hood slightly hung over the performer’s eyes.
“Payhuhr! Pay-huhr! Get dem dollas out! Lemme see that green! Don’t want shit that rattles! Pay---huhr!” the announcer barked as he pointed to the stage. The performer hadn’t uttered a word, but spectators flocked to the stage fanning their dollar bills, five-dollar bills, and twenty-dollar bills. The bouncers, all of them instructed to intercept the incoming money, lined the front of the orchestra section. Video cameras captured their every move and, every once and a while, they would allow a big spender to approach the stage. Tonight, there were quite a few big spenders, all hoping to touch or to get a closer look at Lady Champaign. “Pay-huhr! Visa! MasterCard! American Express! Pay-the bitch huhr money!”
The first few lines of the song were performed dramatically with hand movements and flawless lip-syncing. Lady Champaign dazzled the crowd with trembling lips, Phyllis’s facial expressions - the whole nine yards. Dangling notes slurred over orchestration fit for a queen. Ms. Phyllis had been resurrected – brought back to life by the biggest and best drag queen that the Bluff City had to offer. She swayed, she waved, never missing a step.
There was a trumpet solo in the song, and, as Lady Champaign halted all movement and stood frozen in time, a tuxedo-clad gentleman mimed the piece to perfection with a brass trumpet Rudy had found at the pawnshop. During the reprise, Lady Champaign’s cape was flung to the stage, and the crowd exploded. Iysha gasped and threw her hand over her mouth. It was then that she saw her missing Parisian dress, her new scarf, her new shoes, and…her new lipstick. All of it on Lady Champaign! All of it on Nathaniel! In a dress or not, there was no mistaking her husband.
His/her eyes gazed up into the mezzanine, courting the big spenders as he/she always did. Misty-eyed from the special effects, the diva couldn’t see anything that wasn’t directly in front of him/her. Iysha, with furrows embedded in her brow, leaned forward in her seat and forlornly peered at him while shaking her head in disbelief. Her husband had been too damn cheap to buy his own shit to wear, and now this song – the same song that she had lost her virginity to in the eighth grade – had a totally new meaning. What a birthday this had turned out to be.
With a heavy heart but little remorse, Chris thought quietly to herself, Payback is a bitch.