Queenzie, (birth name: Joseph Rizzuto Brocato) arrived into this world at 11:46AM on February 23, 1949 at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. He was manager of The Ruby Red Slipper Retirement Home in Savoie, Louisiana, population 12,534. It was a rural, agricultural area composed of little more than cotton, chicken poop and red dirt pastures and Queensie’s job was to make certain there were just the right accoutrements for aging drag queens. Instead of individual rooms stemming from a wide center hallway, he had the walls torn down and a circular room designed that was completely round. His view point was that nothing was more important than schmoozing amongst others making an open space a must and gossiping a priority. A nice thick iron railing was screwed in and around the entire room for those tired queens who just had to hang on or fall down. In mid-center of the large room were overstuffed sofas facing each other for gossip access and end tables laden with sweet tea on ice and dollops of soft peach pie. At all times. There were tall standing lamps with white lace draping each shade especially made for aging diva eyes. Stacks of Vogue, People, and Stonewall historical magazines lined the coffee table. Here and there were bottles of opened Rolaids, round soft peppermints and strange sets of teeth floating in water glasses. Crushed rolled tubes of Preparation H Cream sank in the crevices of the table – the only proven anti-aging ointment for a senior queen’s face.
“Girls, never ever go outside without your Clinique, EVERRR!” Queenzie commanded of his elderly queens. “You gotta look good, bitches. If your jowls beez saggin’, you getcha that there duct tape, pull it up and over the ear. It’s gonna hurt like shit. Don’t matter none. Remember, I’m gonna make up your face in your casket so keep on lookin’ good. Got it!”
Of course, all the girls listened to Queensie. He knew what was right.
A sideboard with extremely important items was also located inside that huge circular room. That particular furniture piece became a glamorous beauty station. There were rusted Aqua Net bottles, stacked wiglets, The Eva Gabor Auburn Collection wiglet, Brown Magic Rolling wiglets and platinum bouffant wigs. Mismatched fishnet hose, oatmeal soap and small bottles of Brilliantine scattered all around the sideboard. No matter what time of day, a queen could be ready to break out into a glamour moment. The dressing room had to be well-stocked with press-on nails, foam for making aging booties round and well-padded and of course, super-glue. The electricity in that room went dead at times or blinked due to dozens of hairdryers on full speed all at the same time. But the girls lived with it; dim lights were so much kinder to them. Evey drag queen in that room had experienced “pageantry” in his lifetime and so the craving for attention and thrill of performing remained the highest priority.
Queenzie knew that old queens had fashion emergencies up until they were 6’ under and he even hired a part-time hairdresser, Mr. Steve, to come in every Tuesday to style hair at the retirement home. Those old queens created a hedonistic space while morphing into Dusty Springfield look-a-likes. Mr. Steve would whack black smocks around their necks what with being very unpredictable. The intensity of the whack depended on what he did the night before, especially if it involved a bad trick. He would then shove bobby pins deeply into the drag queens scalps always smiling sardonically while shoving. It was imperative that he always take his “slap-bitch” attitude out on his clients.
“Sit your ass down, missy. I’m workin’ a bad-ass hangover and it ain’t pretty. What are we doing today with this rat’s nest you got here? You got a dead cat on your head or are you just dead and you ain’t told us yet!” Mr. Steve lisped at the queen in his salon chair.“Stop the drama and make me beautiful...don’t be stingy with the Aqua Net!” said all the clients said at the same time. They had their ways of retaliating and nothing could be worse for Mr. Steve than a roomful of complaining old drag queens.
Queenzie insisted on installing 1960’s salon machinery at the Ruby Red Retirement Home. He felt it very retro-chic drag. The cone-head hairdryers were large, metal and oh so hot. Those queens had blood-red ears baked to a crisp by the time hair was dry. Little carbon monoxide, anyone? He even ordered a permanent wave machine from a vintage store in Chelsea, New York. A huge hose hung down from the ceiling and attached to the resident’s head. Electrocuted yet? No, missy, just makin’ pretty. Vile odors of hair spray permeated the air. Chronic lung disease? Not yet, but beauty first. And so the girls’ hair felt like a tin roof. Mission accomplished!
Queensie was good to his girls, never wanting them to feel like freaks in dresses. He did whatever he could to bring their past into the forefront and knew they required epic trips to Wall-Mart or Rite-Aid for makeup and bras. When he opened the retirement home, he brought with him a ton of boxes filled with New Orleans flea market finds. It was a fashion hunting expedition as the girls grabbed pencil-thin skirts, mod leopard Capri’s, wide elastic mesh belts and huge owl necklaces. The best part was when one of the drag queens found a size 12 pair of stiletto’s!
They had a ball having wine and wig parties, shuffling through all the boxes, and remembering the glamorous old days.