Sunday, February 2, 2014

An Evening With Charlie Brown

You know how we all have some stories from our *ahem* younger years *ahem* that, while we shouldn't share them in public, they're too funny not to share?  This is one of those stories for me.  I've told it in person numerous times, and it hit on me now, as a way of recovering from the curse-fest that was the fairy story, that I should record the tale on here as one that is a) PG-rated, and b) entirely true.

One of my most successful periods as a teacher came about as a result of actions that were, for the most part, entirely to the credit of other people.  One of my better students approached me and suggested that we form a student chapter of a national IT organization.  About all I remember actually doing was saying "okay," and that launched a rather brilliant epoch.  A group of mature, highly engaged students took charge, helped by the liaison from the professional agency (a man whose friendship I still cherish today).  We won awards, we brought home trophies.  We crushed the local state college.  It was beautiful, man.

It was during our first national trip, in fact, when I got an experience I'll never forget.  Thousands of IT students converged on Atlanta for the national conference, hailing from some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S.  We, the Alaskan contingent, sent teams to compete in all sorts of nerdy competitions: database design, web site design, coding, and so on.  That's all stuff that makes an IT guy like me get weak in the knees.

The least nerdy competition was the scavenger hunt, and it was also the only part of the event in which I, the faculty mentor, could take part.  It was a blast!  The first thing we did, of course, was set up a router inside one of the hotel rooms and get seven or eight laptops a'whirring to find solutions to the questions posed.  I know, I know, it probably violated the hotel's Internet use policy, but hey, everybody else was doing it, too.

It didn't take us long to zero in on the easy ones.  Closest Waffle House: check.  Certain kiosk at a nearby mall: check.  Then we hit the biggie: take a picture, the item commanded, with Charlie Brown.

It turns out, in hindsight, that we should have looked on the campus of the community college that was sponsoring the event, because it apparently sported a large statue of the entire Peanuts gang.  Why the Peanuts members are immortalized as a statue at a community college is something I've never bothered asking, but there they are.  I guess, anyway.  I never actually saw it.

You know how sometimes people get questions wrong on tests because of ambiguity?  Well, if you're a teacher, you know that.  It's really quite easy to ask a question and think that there's absolutely no way for someone with half a brain cell who's been even partially awake in your class could not answer A, and then have three quarters of your class answer B because, if you look at it the way they do, B is the better answer.


Yeah, what I'm getting to, slowly but--well, slowly--is that there are multiple ways to interpret "Charlie Brown."  At least, there were in Atlanta, at that time.

It turns out that back then (I just researched it for this post, and it seems the venue closed down in 2010) there was also a fairly well-known night club named Charlie Brown's Cabaret.  No, it wasn't named after the cartoon character who Lucy keeps from kicking a football.  Instead, the facility was named after its founder--or rather, his--er, her--or, whatever--stage name.

You see, Charlie Brown was an internationally-known drag queen.  Still is, from what I can tell, only now he--she--dangit, what gender-specific pronoun do you use for a drag queen?--the performer is 63 years old and only does an occasional show on the side.

At the time, though, apparently Charlie Brown was The Stuff if you were interested in cabaret drag shows in the Atlanta area.

We weren't.  We most definitely were not, I should add.  Lovely gay friends I may have, but I most certainly do not wish to watch any of them flounce about in a dress.  Nevertheless, down we went in a cab to central Atlanta, the three of us--the faculty mentor, the club president, and one of the club officers--taking one for the team, as it were.

(and when I say we went down, I mean downtown.  'k?)

The cab dumped us off at the "gates"--police barriers is more like it--to Backstreet, a downtown hangout that felt like a place that three IT dudes from Alaska should definitely not be.  Luckily for us it wasn't very busy yet; after all, we were there at the "IT Guys Party" time, which I have to suggest is generally a few hours prior to any other party times.

Hey, now, I was--still am, at heart--an IT guy.  It's my party and I can cry if I want.

*ahem* So, anyway, because it wasn't very busy, Charlie Brown's place was easy to spot and get to.  Boldly we walked up to the door and greeted the bouncer, and then we realized that nobody had figured out how we would introduce the subject of our visit.

"We need a picture with Charlie Brown" didn't seem right.  I mean, who walks up to the front doors of a venue and demands photographs with the celebrity?  We'd discussed it a little on the rather long cab ride there, and the assumption was that several groups would've already beaten us there.  Surely the national club would've discussed this with the star before sending people for pictures, right?

The guard/bouncer/ID checker guy stared blankly at us.

None of us had any idea how to broach that subject.  Hell, none of us had any idea how to broach any subject when entering a drag venue.

Luckily the club president was with us.  A big man, he hulks over my mere six feet.  He looks like he's descended directly from the great Viking chieftains, too, and one gets the idea being around him that "fear" isn't something he's been guilty of feeling often.  Besides, he's been happily married for years, and to a beautifully impressive woman who looks like she shares his ancestry and would bench-press anybody who dared suggest that her husband was into--well, um, you know--that stuff.

Our Norse god took the lead, explaining the club, the scavenger hunt, and the chief goal for our visit.

The bouncer walked away chuckling.  After a minute or two he came back and explained that Charlie Brown was amenable to our plight, on one condition.

We had to stay for the first act, at least, of the show.

Yeah, okay.  Like, how difficult could that be?

I kept wondering how we'd managed to be the first team to get there as we were led back to the star's dressing room.  There, we got to snap several awesome photos while we chatted with one of the world's premier drag queens.  It was--actually, it was pretty awesome.  He's a great guy, and the conversation, short as it was, proved both pleasant and engaging.

Then we watched the show.

For the record, none of us had any idea what to expect.  What we got proved wildly entertaining, though.  Charlie Brown's act consisted of both music and comedy, and the insults he hurled toward some of his audience members--the Georgian "peaches" and us Alaskans, included--were as funny as they were priceless.

The first act was so good, in fact, that we stayed for the second.  That was when the mental injury was sustained.

See, the second act was sort of topless.  The performer strutted out onto the stage in a slinky silvery dress, and then as--still don't know which pronoun to use--sang, the top of the dress came down to display.....

Yeah, breasts.  Breasts with pasties, so it wasn't completely topless, but they were bared breasts nonetheless.

I've rarely been so conflicted.  My eyes were entranced; it's not often that they've had such perfect specimens of womanhood displayed to them under the glare of spotlights.  My brain, meanwhile, recoiled.  Those are amazing breasts brushed up against That's a dude dancing topless

Ow, ow, and ow.

I have no idea how the rest of the show went, as it was quite early in the silver-dress act that the three of us Alaskan IT guys decided that we'd gotten everything we'd come for, that and just a little too much more, and so we ducked down and fled from the building.  We washed our minds out with as much alcohol as we could consume that evening, but it didn't help--I still occasionally close my eyes only to see that glimmery silver dress, halfway down, and what it contained.

Oh--and no, we didn't win the scavenger hunt; as I already pointed out, that was the wrong Charlie Brown.  We did, however, win a certain amount of infamy, thanks to the pictures we submitted being shown early and repeatedly within the slide show at the awards night dinner.

It ended up being entertaining as heck to one of the club members, who it turned out was gay and fell out of his seat laughing at our expressions upon seeing ourselves on the big screen with Charlie Brown himself.

I suppose that even I learned something on that trip to Atlanta.


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