OPENING MY BOX 


I approach this situation with a replica of how I approach all Orlando situations involving overtly demonstrative ornamentation with Manic Panic dripping down behind its ears: blackened ambivalence and a blue bottle of vodka.

It's a vicious flow chart, really, one that drips painfully from elementary-school gifted programs to safety pins in high school to hair-color/suicide 20s, eventually giving way to less-embarrassing bouts with drug and alcohol abuse. Sooner or later, this happens to everyone, etc. If you notice the drink in my hand right now, then you know that I'm not flowing backward.

Except tonight, it's almost like I am. Here at Will's Pub — the "you are here" dot on my own personal historical map of suicide attempts, overdoses, ridiculously philosophical conversations, safety-pinned dresses and, well, drinking — it's somewhat difficult to resign myself to the poetry-free drip pan that my life has become at the close of 2005. Just by swinging open the door, I feel as if I've cracked Pandora's Box.

Oh, wait. I'm hosting "Pandora's Box."

By some twisted fate involving the passive aggression of the promotion machine known as MySpace, I've been asked to don the imaginary top hat as master of ceremonies for what, by most accounts, appears to be a fetish show. Mutedly flattered, I accepted, mostly because I couldn't rightly see (through the drunken haze of my midnight computer screen) any reason not to.

"There've been a few changes," event co-organizer John fedoras in my general direction, eyes shifting from brim to brim. "First off, we're not even using the word ‘fetish.' We prefer ‘burlesque.'"

"So, will there be naked people?" I bottom my line.

"No, I don't think that's legal."

Dammit. Judging from the preponderance of boudoir-romantic redheaded girls in slight Victorian dress and the trenchcoated, pseudo-goth-mafia men they cling to, nudity would probably be a bad thing anyway. In fact, the assembled gaggle of floor-slapping dark-wavers — a crowd that emits that strangely sweet musk of fishing lure plastic worms kept too long under the black light — seems like they're more comfortable existing as their clothes than they would be removing them. To me, it seems like a lot of work. So much so that I'll spend most of the pre-show mingle not mingling, bellying up against the bar, staring into the void that is MTV's Next with the volume turned off.

"Ooooh, it's the gay episode," I'll mutter to nobody listening. "I hate the gay episode."

I am the gay episode.

So it's only episodically funny when one of the bar's regulars shares in a heartfelt conversation with me about me before offering me "a present" of the bathroom-stall variety. I refuse, albeit with minor fidgeting and a couple wipes of my nose, and his face lights up.

"Doesn't seem like you're doing that much anymore," he also fidgets. "Don't ever let anybody tell you that that's not cool, because it is."

Next!

Well, next is a sexy British drink of filtered water who saunters up unannounced with a pool cue in hand, asking with accent, "Aren't you that Orlando Weekly bloke?"

Aye. His name is James and although he is very masculine in that fuck-you-in-the-back-of-a-pub way, he's clearly not a gay episode. In fact, he's a straight guy in search of my intellectual real estate.

"I know you probably don't do this," he flirts, erroneously. I do anything. "But could you put something in your column about how James misses his girlfriend Cara?"

Absolutely not. "OK, sure."

"Nice one!" he geezers.

Anyway, amid all of the overhearable Harry Potter talk and occasional "You should have been mayor" interludes, I realize that there's a show supposed to happen here. I run to the bathroom, ostensibly to twist my colored hair and not do coke, when I sense a scuttle outside the door. One of the "burlesque" dancers is having it out with the organizers over, well, over whatever people who dress up and dance get upset about. (Safety pins?) Attempts to calm her down are met with a defiant, "I don't need to calm down. I need a shot!"

Because this is my gay episode, I cue myself to exit the bathroom, producing said shot from my secret blue bottle. She glows, throwing it back her lovely hatch. I've fixed everything, apparently. The show will flow on.

My introduction tonight comes in the form of interpretive-danced chants of "We want Billy" procured from the musical Chicago. I've never seen it. Again, I don't care. I've coaxed myself into believing that this is simply a celebratory carnival of the absurd, even if it's the exact same kind of absurd that happens in cities like Omaha.

"I don't know why the fuck I'm here!" I greet the crowd. "Oh, wait. I am wearing a military jacket, which kind of puts me in line with the playfully Nazi tendencies of early-era Siouxsie, right?"

Some cheers. Some gothic silence.

Anyway, I go on to introduce a dark metal band (Blood Moon … boo!) as Krokus; wonder aloud what a "thermonuclear" painter does exactly; engage in a spirited and ridiculous game of "find the banana." I also, at one time or another, drop my pants and refer to my posterior as my own Pandora's Box.

But it's all kind of a blur, because I'm in the process of redeveloping my eternal sinus infection. I tell John that I have to bow out (it's already been five hours in one bar), and I try to make a stealthy exit from the scene — and ultimately my checkered past.

"Billy, you're not leaving, are you?" slaps a boy painted silver and carrying a bundle of twigs as a switch. "How am I going to fuck you?"

"Oh, sorry," I politely demur. "I've already been fucked."

billymanes@yahoo.com

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