Monday, April 1, 2013
8 Balls and the House on Dana Part 2
The music at The 8Ball Bar and Lounge is a little more cutting edge then the music at most of the other Albany bars. The Playhouse, which is five blocks away on Central Avenue, tends to play old disco and caters to a much older crowd. There in the back bar you will dance to the Disco Version of Memory and lots of Donna Summer.
Grace Jones, The Thompson Twins and Frankie Goes to Hollywood are in heavy rotation at the 8 Ball and anything goes. Feel like lying on the floor while the music plays, just so you can look at the lights? Go right ahead. Feel like dancing by yourself or partner with the wall? Be my guest.
I do notice that even though the crowd sways to a younger vibe the club is a little segregated. Near the DJ Booth are a series of benches referred to as the bleachers. This is where 90% of the African American clientele likes to hang out. There seems to be a plethora of African American Drag Queens who migrate to the club. Maybe they are drawn in to the club by the goddess at the door Miss Kenny? But this is where I meet some of my first mentors. Drag Queens tend to be quick on their feet when it comes to verbal comebacks and cutting someone down to size is a skill. They take no shit and they don’t put up with it either. What is so fascinating to me is how they can cut someone down and you laugh at what they are saying. It is a learned defense mechanism and I pay close attention.
The leader of this pack of Drag Queens is a skinny white boy who skips putting on his deodorant when he heads out to the club. His nickname according to Kim is “Stinky.” That’s funny that I would someday meet a hustler with the same nickname. His real name is John but the Drag Queens refer to him as Chaka. I’m assuming that’s derived from the singer Chaka Kahn, but I never ask.
I approach Chaka to ask for a light, really I am there to get to know the various queens and hang out with him. Chaka is about 5’10, bald headed and refers to himself as the “mother of these children”. Kim warns me before I go over to this group that they will rob me blind. “Always have one eye on your pocket,” Kim whispers a warning into my ear. Kim has no love for them and tells me that they steal bar tips all the time. As I approach Chaka, Kim wanders away and returns to her job cleaning ashtrays, picking up empty beer bottles and finished cocktails.
Tonight, there are five drag queens hanging out with Chaka smoking cigarettes and drinking. They turn the back of the club into their own personal runway and “walk” for each other. As I approach several of the Drag Queens stop what they are doing and watch me. ‘Hi, I say with a little wave. My name is Geoff.
Chaka’s back is to me and he does a slow turn around to meet me. His eyes immediately look me up and down; he is calculating a way to cut me down if he has to. “What brings you to the dark side of the moon?” he asks extending the back of his hand. I believe that he actually wants me to kiss it but I grab it and shake it vigorously.
I tell them my story and Chaka motions me to sit with him. The drag queens surround me and listen intently. By the end of the night they have smoked all of my cigarettes and my wallet is empty from buying them drinks.
to be continued…..
Geoffrey Doig-Marx holds all written and electronic rights to his writing "A Day in the Life". It can not be reprinted in part or whole without his written consent.