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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

KENNETH ANN

I’ve never seen any place that seemed to have more drag shows than Odessa, Texas and bad drag at that. I suppose because there was usually only one gay bar operating at any given time. In Dallas they have special nights for drag shows, or even certain bars that have a drag theme, but not Odessa. There were times they went on every single night at one bar called the “Misty Blue”. I remember once there was this guy standing at the microphone one afternoon in full drag miming the words to some Judy Garland song while a scratchy old LP played over the speakers. No one in the room was watching him and we were all going about our own business having a merry old time. Suddenly there was a commotion from the stage and I looked over my shoulder, the guy was throwing a fit. He kicked over the stool he was sitting on and stomped off the stage, high heels clicking all the way, cursing us for not paying attention to him. What did he want us to do? There was a drag show there twenty four seven and we were tired of that shit.

No drag queen was ever as famous as Kenneth Ann, at least in his mind. He had such a thick West Texas accent and he was the only person who could turn one syllable words like Ann and Sam into three syllables. When he said my name it always came out something like, “Saaaymmmnnn”. Someone told me years later that when he lived in Abilene Kenneth was given a shot glass of Crème De Menthe and he said, “Why that tayst jus like Haley’s MO.” If you’ve seen the character Beverly Lesley on “Will and Grace”, then you have some idea of the way he spoke. In fact, I’d almost swear whoever created that character based it on Kenneth Ann.

I first met Kenneth in 1975 when I was standing at the bar at the “Fisherman’s Warf” in Odessa. My old friend from fourth grade, Amazing Mazine walked over to me and said, “There’s someone who’d like to meet you.” I was feeling cocky at the time and asked, “How much do they weigh?” “Less than you honey.” He said. I asked, “Where are they?” and he pointed to a table with four or five guys sitting at it. He said, “The third guy from the left.” I looked and it was a tall good looking guy with black hair. I said, “I might come over there in a minute.” and he walked off. When I got my coke, it was a BYOB bar, I walked over and they made a place for me next to the black haired man. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Larry, but as luck would have it he wasn’t the one who wanted to meet me, it was the guy on the other side of me.
He held out his limp wristed hand and said, “Hi, my name is Kenneth.” I almost spit my drink all over him. Here he was this balding man with mascara, long nails with clear polish, a dozen bangle bracelets and he absolutely reeked of “Jungle Gardenia” perfume. I wanted to get up and run, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I sat there like an idiot until I got good and drunk. I did everything I could to ignore him and flirt with Larry who seemed pleased by my attention. I found out he and Larry were roommates and lived in a duplex in Midland. Later in the evening they asked me to go home with them I said “Yes.”, but I was pissed when Larry got in one car and Kenneth got in my Cadillac. We followed Larry the sixteen miles to Midland, while Kenneth ran his hands all over me and kept kissing my neck the whole way. When we got there and I realized there was only one bedroom I was hopeful that we could all get in the same bed, but Larry started making himself a bed on the sofa, so there I was drunk, tired, and stuck with Kenneth. Thank God it was late and I feigned drunkenness to keep from having to have sex with him. Kissing him was bad enough, I’ll never forget the awful taste of his perfume in my mouth.

When I woke up the next morning Barry Manilow was singing “I Write the Songs” on the radio and I wanted to chew my arm off to get the hell out of there. Luckily after rough housing with him I was able to coax Larry into bed with us, we rolled around together and had somewhat of a good time. I wouldn’t relive that night for anything, but it actually helped my reputation for years afterwards, because Kenneth Ann told everyone, “Sam is wild in bed.” Kenneth Ann was in love with me and we were an “item”, even though I didn’t know anything about it. He apparently told everyone he knew that we were boyfriends or lovers, or something, because when I began showing up at the bar alone he would sit in a corner in full drag without his wig and dab at his eyes with a hankie. A guy walked over to me and said, “You’re a son of a bitch!” I smiled at him and said, “You must know me.” I found out over the years he did this to lots of guys. One of the funniest things that ever happened was that years later after his circle of drag queen friends grew one of his loyal followers walked up to this guy and said, “This is from Kenneth Ann!”, and slapped him across the face. The guy sat down his drink, walked over to Kenneth Ann, and decked him. I didn’t see it, but they said Kenneth hit the floor like a ton of bricks. Another time Kenneth had ridden to the bar with my friend Andy and some others. There was some guy Andy had his eye on only to find out Kenneth was having one of his “things” with the guy. They fought about it on the way home and Andy screeched his Buick into the gravel driveway at Kenneth’s house, reached over, threw the passenger open, and yelled, “Why don’t you tell everyone who you’re in love with this week!”

Kenneth never missed a chance to say catty things to me. In 1977 I was doing laundry at the Laundromat down the street from where I lived and by some coincidence there were several gay guys there that evening. Kenneth made a big deal of telling everyone to come to his house when they got finished for a party. On his way out the door he stopped and said, “Oh, and Saaaymmmnnn, you cin come toooo.” In the mid eighties before I had my stomach stapled he would see me somewhere and say, “Oh my, you look so healthy.” Then when I lost almost fifty pounds he saw me in Furr’s Cafeteria one day and said loud enough for the whole dining room to hear, “Ever time I see you, you just get skinnier and skinnier are you seeick?” This was when people were so afraid of AIDS everyone turned to look at me. The final straw came one night in 1987 when I went to “Miss Lily’s” in Odessa with two friends of mine. It was my turn to buy a round of drinks, so I went up to the bar and stood in line. While I was standing there some guy wrapped his arms around me from behind, lifted me off the floor and said, “God, I haven’t seen you in so long.” When I turned around, he turned beet red and said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else.” He was handsome so I asked him who he thought I was, but he wouldn’t tell me. Then a couple of minutes later these two girls walked up behind me and said, “Where’ve you been?” I turned around and they apologized and said they thought I was someone else. This time I wouldn’t let it go I kept pressuring them as to who it was, and they reluctantly said, “Kenneth Ann”. I looked across the room at my friends just knowing I was the victim of one of their pranks, but they weren’t even looking at me. I returned with the drinks thoroughly pissed off and told them what happened. They tried to console me by telling me, “You should be flattered, Kenneth Ann is skinny.” It didn’t make me feel one damn bit better and I soon was custom fitted for a hair piece and I wore one for eleven years after that.

The designated drag night at “Miss Lilly’s” was Sunday and God only knew what you might see. Those queens would do a Diana Ross song wearing a blond wig, or do a Marilyn Monroe number in a brunette wig. One Sunday they were having a drag contest and half the judges were from Amarillo. They voted for the best performance and that didn’t sit too well because everyone from Midland-Odessa knew that Kenneth Ann always won no matter what. After they announced the results and the guy got up on stage and accepted his trophy, I’ll be damned if the manager didn’t walk up to the microphone and announce that there’d been a mistake and Kenneth Ann was the actual winner. The other guy’s boyfriend could be heard yelling as Kenneth got up on stage and did his usual “squat and pee” acceptance dance with tears streaming down his face like he didn’t already know he was going to win.

I really regret missing the night “Rita Rhinestone” wiped out the meat rack. It was 1979 and the guy came out on roller skates in a leopard print leotard miming “Take Me Home” by Cher. He got to going a little too fast and couldn’t make the turn. They said he hit the side bar we called the meat rack, where all the single guys stood cruising and “Whomp!” guys and drinks flew everywhere as Rita hit the floor. Those drag queens were mean as hell, even to each other. One night some queen decided to do a World War II number and sang Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America” wearing a vintage WAAC’s uniform. At the end of the number he was to pull a cord and unfurl a U.S. flag, but someone tied one corner in a knot and only half the flag would come down. I gotta tell ya the girl was pissed.

I moved back to Midland from Dallas briefly in 1991 and went to the bar with a friend visiting from San Antonio of course there was a drag show and the drinks were so watered down I couldn’t even get a buzz, so I switched to beer. After living in Dallas and seeing drag there I just knew Odessa was going to be more pathetic than ever. This guy walked out in a Madonna outfit from the days where she wore her underwear on the outside. His hair was done up in an “I Dream of Genie” style and he was wearing a sharp pointed silver lame bra with stiletto heels. Just as I was turning to my friend to criticize him the guy did flips head over heels from the stage to right in front of us. I looked at my friend and said, “I take back everything I just said.” It turned out he had a show in Vegas and he was just there visiting relatives. He was the best I’ve ever seen.

Todd heard sometime in 1992 that Kenneth had AIDS. He told the guy who told him, “You know, I’ve never really cared for Kenneth, but I hate to hear he has AIDS. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” The next day Todd got a call from Kenneth chewing him out for spreading vicious rumors about him. In the summer of 1993 I went to visit Todd and we decided to have an impromptu party. We started calling everyone we knew Kenneth almost always got an invitation because he knew so many people. Once in 1981 at the annual Labor Day party we threw at Todd’s parent’s house on H Street I was opening a bottle of champagne for a friend. I said, “You want to see if I can hit Kenneth Ann with this?” He laughed and said, “Yes!” Kenneth was standing on the opposite side of the pool from where we were. The cork made a huge pop as I opened it and I’ll be damned if Kenneth didn’t turn and look right at me as the plastic cork sailed two inches above his head and landed in the grape arbor over the bar. I certainly didn’t score any points with him that night. As we made our calls we couldn’t get an answer at his house, so we called the furniture store where he worked. The girl there told Todd in a tearful voice that Kenneth was in Midland Memorial Hospital. We called his room and spoke with him. He suggested a couple of people we could call and said, “Here I aaam on my daythbed.” Todd said, “Now, now, that’s how rumors get started.” Kenneth died less than two months later. He was buried in a small town near Abilene and his parent’s didn’t put an obituary in the Midland paper until a month later because they were afraid his drag queen friends would show up and create a spectacle. His death was truly the end of an era.

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