By Jan Worth-Nelson
Can Flint be any more itself than combining a crowded bookstore, bingo, and a curvy six-foot tall drag queen in red sequins hollering out “B-8, bitches!”?
I’ve been here more than 35 years and by now there is nothing much that could surprise me about my adopted hometown. The energy at Totem Bookstore’s Drag Queen Bingo night makes me think no matter how pissed we get at the world, no matter how exasperated we are, no matter how deeply we’re mourning death and suffering, we still can fight back with our own brand of audacity and raunchy belly laughs.
The most popular selfies posed mostly middle-aged white women with their hands on the enormous bazooms of “Miss Madeline Sharp.” A few men did it too. I admit, out of respect for the vagaries that toppled Al Franken, I didn’t do that selfie. But holy moly, Miss Madeline’s décolletage was formidable. I couldn’t take my eyes off them: um…are they real? We all kind of wondered but frankly I didn’t care. Those Grand Tetons (Grand Totems?) were a marvel.
“Miss Madeline,” of Swartz Creek, paused between rounds of the business of bingo to vamp and lip-sync her way through several torch songs. She threw her arms up in the air and shook her booty. She was fantastic. People who hit bingo got little bags of goodies and the bar, set up where you usually only pay for your vintage blues vinyl or biography of Dylan Thomas, was doing brisk business in red and white and pink spirits.
It was Miss Madeline’s third bingo night at the Court Street hangout. She said she wonders why it’s pretty much only white people, mostly women, who tend to show up. “I think everybody should come out for drag,” she said, and then returned to the mic where she shouted, “Let’s have some f–king fun! Let’s get this s–t started! G-spot 25!!”
Dean Yeotis, Totem owner, lawyer, dreamer, and hoarder of all good and great things musical and literary, happily presided over the pouring and grinned as any merchant would to see his premises chock-a-block with patrons having a good time. I reconnected at the bar with Tyler Bailey, son of the late Chuck Bailey and a former wonderful student of mine and now a Totem factotum. He’s another talented young person back in Flint wrestling out an interesting life. He showed me one of his tattoos — “Always,” in his own handwriting on his forearm, and I bared mine–my new little piece of hopeful ink, my semi-colon right at home in the drag queen bingo crowd.
And I was there with my beloved poet sister, Sarah Carson and her mother Kathy Bamba, taking a night off from caring for my goddaughter, Zuzu–Sarah’s seven-month-old darling. Sarah, too, author of THE definitive 21st century Flint poetry collection Buick City, recently came back to Flint from Chicago and is sculpting a life here–in the midst of mommy-ing, also writing one marvelous poem after another, with a new manuscript almost ready to go out to a world that really needs more of her.
Anyway, I slipped out of there in slick snow on yet another wintry night, cars on Court slipping and sliding along the city’s weariness. It all seemed a little less exhausted though, the lights of downtown almost amusing, the salve of laughter a Saturday night relief.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.