Each cupcake was anchored in a glazed donut. Robert, who grew up in Savannah, bit into one and spit the lard soaked monstrosity onto the ground, laughing.
Lee pointed across Cheshire Bridge to Baton Bob, twirling at a safe distance. The popular street performer had spent a night in jail recently, after staging a thermonuclear queen fit outside Colony Square. Then, a few days later, he went ballistic when a woman interrupted his twirling to request a photo.
“We’re glad you’re here – er, over there!” Lee shouted. “No more police brutality!”
Shawtina, the androgynous trans dwarf and master of ceremonies at Lee’s show, approached the couple, smiling. “We’ve put together a brief surprise for you,” she said. “I’m going to call everyone inside in a few minutes. Go on in and get front row seats now.”
Robert and Lee looked at one another nervously, but did as Shawtina ordered. The stage was empty except for a spot-lighted, life-size male doll that hung from the ceiling. The number 50, rendered in glitter, decorated the chest of the naked, anatomically correct figure.
The space filled up and Shawtina, resplendent in post-Munchkin cowboy drag, came front and center.
“Good evening,” Shawtina said. “As everyone knows, we’re here tonight to celebrate the 50th birthdays and first anniversary of two of our city’s leading oddballs — one a foodie and the other an anti-Puritan theologian who operates this show.
“Turning 50 is momentous for most gay men. It puts you well over the midlife mark, begins the avalanche of mail from AARP, finalizes your nickname as ‘Daddy,’ and earns you a VIP parking space at the Hideaway, where there are no strangers, only nearly dead friends yet to meet.
“Soooo,” Shawtina continued, “rather than having a typical cake and festivities for Robert and Lee, we invited food people in town to get as weird as possible. And instead of turning a cake into a fire hazard with 50 candles and opening a lot of presents, we’ve got this.”
Shawtina pointed above to the naked male figure.
“Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a geriatric piñata. We’re going to invite the birthday boys on stage, blindfold them, and ask them to break it open with pool cues. It contains the usual bad candy and sex toys, but there are also slips of paper with questions some of our guests submitted. So, come on up, boys, and let’s get violent.”
Where was your favorite meal?
Soon, wearing leather hoods, Robert and Lee took turns swinging at the piñata, both demonstrating their complete lack of athletic prowess until Shawtina grew frustrated, ran offstage, dragged out a bazooka gun and blasted the piñata open.
“Now take off your hoods and gather up the damn questions!” she yelled. “Find one addressed to you and answer it.”
Robert was the first to go. He read the question aloud: “Where did you have your favorite meal in the last year?”
“I hate that question, but probably Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano. It capitalizes on the chicken trend but offers something completely unique in our city and it’s cheap. Your turn,” he said looking at Lee.
“Alex Wan failed in his effort to clean up Cheshire Bridge,” Lee read. “Your whole purpose seems to be to sabotage such efforts and to demonstrate how each of us is a kind of freak. Are we now safe from the Puritans?”
Lee tossed his leather hood on the floor. “Of course, we aren’t. We saved this boulevard of gay and straight sex play and then the new town of Brookhaven goes after the Pink Pony, a strip club that’s been around for years, just around the corner from the CDC’s offices.
“Gay people,” he continued, “need to look at the bigger picture. I’m glad marriage is becoming a reality but that doesn’t mean we have to hide our sex lives. Freedom to fuck and love as we choose has always been the point of our struggle. Our nation was founded by Puritans and most of the churches will continue to demonize sexual expression wherever they can. I remember…”
“That’s enough. We’ve all heard it,” Shawtina snapped, prompting the audience to laugh. “Let’s be real, honey. You’re not a Puritan, but you’ve got that preacher inside you. Your turn, Professor Robert!
Food, sex and pleasure
“What does food have to do with sex?” Robert read.
“Both relate to pleasure,” he began. “The term ‘food porn’ was actually coined by a feminist critic and has come to describe images, like you see on TV, that stimulate hunger, look beautiful, demand taste and such. In other words, it’s about desire, seduction and satisfaction. It’s not surprising that in our culture, where visible sex is still mainly forced out of view, the erotic erupts in surrogate ways. In ancient Rome…”
“Time’s up!” Shawtina shouted.
Lee read: “Sex is fleeting. Love is forever. It’s your one-year anniversary. What’s next?”
He sighed and looked at Robert. “I don’t really agree with that, um, cliché. The only certainty of life is death. The Buddhists say everything is impermanent, that attachment is the source of all pain. That doesn’t mean love isn’t delicious, that pleasure isn’t capable of inducing even spiritual states. So, I don’t know what is next. Who ever knows?”
Someone in the audience booed. Robert laughed.
“Wait ‘til you turn 50,” he said. “These beliefs in eternity of this and that fade and in many ways that’s a relief. When I was half my age, I avoided chocolate in the interest of maintaining a 29-inch waist. Now, I try to stay in shape but I don’t deny myself that pleasure. Nobody looks young forever.”
“This is turning into a conversation,” Shawtina said. “Any questions from our guests?”
“I have a comment!” a man shouted, standing up. “Is there something wrong with trying to stay young? Is there anything wrong with botox and face lifts and all the age-reduction stuff that our local doctors advertise now?”
“Not at all,” Lee replied. “But don’t delude yourself. Look at Bruce Jenner and Michael Jeffries, the ageist head of Abercrombie & Fitch. Both are too freaky for my own show! You can have surgery, spend half your life in the gym and find lovers half your age. But nothing you do stops aging’s sagging victory. But, sure, who can fault anyone for trying to postpone that — within reason.”
Gay restaurants and a pie in the face
“You’re depressing us,” Shawtina shouted. “Back to food. Any more questions?”
A woman quickly stood up. “Thank God,” she said. “I was ready to kill myself for having varicose veins. I have an observation. I’ve lived in Atlanta 30 years and I’ve seen so-called gay restaurants come and go. Not to insult anyone, but many have not been up to par in my opinion. What do you think?”
Robert shifted from foot to foot silently. “It’s a touchy subject,” he finally said. “Here are a few things to consider. Gay people do a lot of dining out because of chronic singlehood. So cost is extra-important. That also means comfort food often takes priority.
“And, then, of course, just by identifying as gay, a restaurant can be making congenial ambiance its most important aspect. But I do think we’re seeing better venues. Roxx is one example of that — good food, reasonable cost and way gay ambiance.”
“Alright,” Shawtina said. “That’s enough. I think all of us wish you the best on your birthdays and hope your love endures, despite your, um, realism. So, let’s end this by singing the tacky Happy Birthday song.”
The House of Gay Human Oddities cast limped, strutted, crawled and rolled in wheelchairs onto stage. Food porn aficionados and freak show fans stood and joined hands. They bellowed the song and applauded. Lee and Robert hugged.
As everyone fell into silence, a man shouted, “Let us forgive him. Vote for Alex Wan!” A cast member rushed forward and shoved a pie in his face. It was a planned scene, but many present voiced their agreement.
Note: This is the last installment of the Food Porn story. It’s been a fun experiment, but difficult to manage for a variety of reasons. Within the next month, I’ll begin writing a more conventional food column in the first-person. Well, it will be as conventional as I’m capable of. — Cliff Bostock