You can¹t judge a book by its cover, or a man by his makeup. Paris has its share of drag divas to rival Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Some time ago, I lived in a part of Montmartre that was, and still is, known for its relatively high population of transvestites. I say “relatively” because there were probably only about eight in all, but they were, by their own design and desire, the kind of people that one did not fail to notice. Some were performers at the drag show nightclubs on Rue des Martyrs and the rest were prostitutes. Who, in a remarkable concurrence of circumstance, picked up their clients outside the drag show nightclubs on Rue des Martyrs.
One prominent neighborhood character was an overweight middle-aged cross-dresser named Henriette, who lived kitty-corner across from my building. I never found out, being a fan of neither art form, whether she performed on the cabaret stage or in sparsely-furnished hotel rooms, but Henriette was “on” all the time, cheerfully greeting and chatting with everyone who crossed her path all day long. She was a real sweetheart and everyone liked her. (Note: despite the fact that she usually needed a shave, I, and everyone else, always thought of Henriette as “she”.)
One day I was at the local minimart picking up some ham, ice cream and bleach (old family recipe) and noticed that the checkout line was much longer than usual. When I joined the queue I realized why: Henriette was at the cash register having a protracted conversation with the clerk, and in the process entertaining everyone no end.
Apparently she was a few francs short of the total (this was the pre-euro era) and the clerk, who of course knew her, was telling her not to worry, to pay next time, etc. But Henriette was, typically, milking the situation for what little it was worth, searching and researching her handbag and prattling on and on about “What a stupid little conne I am! Oooh I can’t believe I could be such a silly conne! An empty-headed conne!” etc., etc., etc. (For readers who haven’t yet taken Street French 101, the word “conne” has just slightly under seven hundred levels of meaning. Its more or less literal English equivalent would be “twat,” but its rating on the Richter Vulgarity Scale is more on par with “ass,” so I guess you could say it’s somewhere in between. So to speak.)
Meanwhile, lurking in the doorway was a forebodingly tough-looking young guy wearing the street warrior’s uniform – ratty jeans, stained denim jacket, high scuffed-up black boots – and staring at Henriette with a look of annoyed exasperation.
I immediately took him for one of the hooligans who hung out around the punk clubs on the boulevard a couple of blocks away. I figured he had stopped in to buy cheap 27 percent beer, saw this histrionic flaming queen and was waiting for a chance to commit a little trans-bashing, if not actual regicide. Honestly, I was already rehearsing how to phrase my testimony at the criminal trial.
But when Henriette finally finished her “bit,” she picked up her bag of groceries, turned to the desperado at the door and said, “Cheri, could you be a dear and carry this for little me? Off we go now!”
And off they went together. One sauntering, one sashaying. To this day the thought of it makes my day.
© 2011 Paris Update
An album of David Jaggard’s comic compositions is now available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, for purchase (whole or track by track) on iTunes and Amazon, and on every other music downloading service in the known universe, under the title “Totally Unrelated.”
Note to readers: David Jaggard’s e-book Quorum of One: Satire 1998-2011 is available from Amazon as well as iTunes, iBookstore, Nook, Reader Store, Kobo, Copia and many other distributors.