: Bending down to adjust her hosiery covered with sequined fishnet stockings, Avalena Beasley is nearly there. In the dirty, sordid little back room of MAGS on Elysian Fields, she’s trying to get her head together before she sets foot onstage as Ambrosia Delight. The tiny room is small and hot, perpetually stinking of beer, old bleach from the grubby concrete floor, and MAC cosmetics going slowly to pot in the heat. Around her, a host of younger queens and fading stars jostle for position at the two door mirrors installed above the makeshift countertop, each one determined that they are the main attraction tonight.
But Avalena knows better. The main attraction tonight is Ambrosia Delight. She’s the only one of these queens who performs with her own voice, still a rarity in New Orleans drag. She avoids the hustle and bustle at the makeup table by arriving in makeup, ready to perform. She has to. None of these queens knows that she’s a biological woman. Graced with a naturally deep speaking voice, she’s forever having to correct people over the phone when they call her “sir.” But when she sings. Ambrosia has been compared to Odetta, Nina Simone, and most recently Duffy and Adelle. It’s what drags them in, to hear the drag queen who sings like an actual woman. They haven’t had that in New Orleans since the early days of Varla Jean Merman. But Varla’s voice is more classically trained. Ambrosia’s voice (for Avalena cannot sing as herself,) is firmly rooted in classic Motown. And if the bar rags are to be believed, they love her.
Just then, her savior and best friend in the drag scene, Princess Stephaney emerges from the narrow hallway to the room with a double shot of Jameson. She’s not like the other drag artists in New Orleans. She is sassy, confident, and most importantly, mature. Ready to hand you your ass with a slice of her rapier tongue and salve your wounds with an immediate cocktail, she has become Ambrosia’s most ardent supporter. Though she’s not likely to let you know it. No reason to inflate a queen’s ego. None at all.
“Here ya go, “Brosia,” she says, handing the filled glass over. “It’s a full house out there.” Leaning in to Ambrosia’s ear, she says as softly as she can, “everybody’s talking about you, baby.”
Ambrosia smiles, and says a bit more deeply than normally, “thanks, Princess. As long as everybody’s happy, I’m happy. Any problems with the DJ? Last week I had to sing acapella.”
“No, I checked,” Princess Stephaney replies, her characteristic good-hearted sneer taking up it’s accustomed position on her exquisite lips. “He’s been cut off until after the shows are over.”
“Thanks, Steph,” Ambrosia smiles, downing the Jameson in a single gulp. She hands the empty glass back to the Princess, then goes to her back to pull out a compact to check her lipstick. Perfect. Not a smudge.
Deciding he needs to get out of the condo, Bruce Halloran darkens the door of MAGS, packed to the gills with pliant young flesh. He forcibly pushes his way through the pond of twenty-thirtysomethings all standing around trying to score time with the others of their ilk. Just like Mardi Gras on St. Charles Avenue; push your way through and get out of it. He makes it to the bar, where there is no bartender. Big surprise, he thinks. He looks around the room for a familiar face. Or at least one that will respond to a customer waiting to place his cocktail order. Finally, he sees Princess Stephaney emerge from the back room. She sees Halloran with that constipated look on his doughy face, and slows her pace to a saunter. Just to keep him waiting a little longer. Finally she makes her way back behind the bar and, taking up a bartowel, starts wiping things down as she asks without looking in his direction,
“Whadday want, Halloran?”
“Double shot of Maker’s, neat,” he barks over the din.
She goes about making the drink with a studied efficiency, doing her best to avoid actually having to look at him. Carelessly, she slides the drink to him on the bar and slaps her hand down on the twenty laying limp upon the bar. She makes the change and is just about to hand it back to him when Halloran barks,
“You sloshed half of it over onto the bar!”
Finally taking a good, long look at Halloran, her free hand closes the till as her other reaches over the tip jar. “You’re lucky it wasn’t in your lap, you bastard.” She drops the change into the jar and smiles acidly as she begins to walk away.
“Hold on, SssssssTEPH” he hisses. She turns back to him. “Who’s on tonight? It isn’t you, is it?”
“I don’t perform on off nights, asshole. And that’s any night you’re here. It’s Persana, Tammi, a new girl called Morganza Spillway, and Ambrosia Delight.”
Halloran sneers at the lineup, giving Princess Stephaney the opportunity to walk away without having to murder him. Halloran takes up his drink and searches for a table to watch this shitshow. Besides, he can always stick around later. Just to see what the dregs are like, maybe pick up a trick. There's some eligible talent in the room. Specifically the fratboy wannabe's in the corner. They're all knocking back shots like it's going out of style. Have to keep an eye on them. Easy pick'ns. He finds a place down front, an area that quickly empties out upon his arrival.
Backstage, Avalena is completing her transition to Ambrosia when she hears Stephaney’s voice on the mic. She’s announcing the lineup for tonight. When she reaches Ambrosia’s name, the room erupts into cheers. A shy little smile crosses her lips. It soon spreads to a wide, incandescent smile. A sparkle appears in each of her eyes, and she fairly glows in the ongoing acclaim. Ambrosia Delight is finally here, and she’s ready to lay waste to the city...This Is My New Orleans.