Outside of a John Waters movie, I had never met anyone like Jimmy Jingles.
“That Mary is a princess,” he said as he marched away after meeting me. I was fascinated with him and he hated me right off the bat.
“I did hate you Mary,” he confessed later. “Thespians like you always look down on Lucille.”
Lucille was his drag alter-ego. Gowned in a volume of pastel chiffon, red haired wigs topped with cascading falls, and enough bugle beads to decorate the Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree; Lucille was everything Jimmy was not.
With his poked-marked faced and square frame, he bulldozed through the store like a bull in a china shop. He was in charge of the visual for men’s and cosmetics. His job was him and he was his job.
“What’s that?” I innocently asked one day when we were walking the men’s department.
“That’s a man, Mary!” he said referring to the socks he had stuffed into the pants of every male mannequin on the floor.
It was “Mary this” or “Mary that.” It was “Miss Thing what?” and “Miss Thing where?” It was “Girlfriend, she’s fierce!” or “Girlfriend, she is fierce!”
One Christmas, he had the entire department over for afternoon tea. Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I turned the corner into the dining room. There, behind velvet ropes as if it were the White House Blue Room, stood the most fabulously garish tree I had ever seen; complete with a child sized gold glitter Nativity Scene. I was speechless.
Later, during a lull in the conversation, Jimmy gave us a tour of Lucille’s closet. It was bursting at the seams with a magical array of rainbow colored fabrics fighting for attention. Like stalactites in a cave, miles of organdy, lace, satin, and feather boas dripped from hangers and hooks.
Jimmy’s closet was as somber as monk’s tomb. A row of stiffly pressed, slightly shabby white shorts over a row of patched trousers. On the floor sat several pairs of run-over slip-ons that had seen a better day. I nearly burst into tears on the spot.
Five days a week, the Visual Managers would eat lunch together, and on Thursday evening we’d head out to our favorite watering hole for Happy Hour.
“We are family Mary” Jimmy informed me, once I was accepted into the fold. “I’m your Auntie Lu. This is your mother, Polly P. These are your Tantes; Jane and Blanche.
Unfortunately, my friend, Howard and I disappointed the very sensitive Madame Lucille during the annual “Miss D.C. Drag Extravaganza” held at the convention center.
“Don’t embarrass your grandmother,” Tante Blanche warned us.
“I’m Auntie Lu!” Jimmy looked Blanche up and down as only a drag performer can. “And you two,” he said and pointed to Howard and me, “Come in drag or don’t come at all!”
He was pleased when we arrived at the big event he was hosting. “Oh Miss Jer! Judy from ‘Summer Stock!’”
“I’m Mary Quant,” Howard said.
Jimmy arched a disapproving eyebrow. “Well, you’re some kind of Mary,” he muttered as he disappeared into a sea of his fans.
At 2:30 a.m., exhausted and “over-dragged,” Howard and I snuck out the side door (Right after the Chita Rivera drag stumbled into the orchestra pit and broke her leg). Jimmy didn’t speak to us for a week. However, when he did, he recapped the aftermath of the event for our eager ears.
“You wouldn’t believe it Mary, but I was in such a stupor afterward that I went off on that purple headed ‘ho’ on the corner of Fourteenth Street. I had just stepped out of the cab when she accused me of steeling her trade. ‘I’m no HO bitch’, I said. Then, just before I reached the door to my building she yells, ‘Hey bitch!’ and pointed to a tree. “Your hair!” I was so upset that I hadn’t even noticed that my wig had gotten caught on a tree branch. Oh Mary, we were both fierce!”
Howard, Jimmy, and I laughed until we cried.
Student in Valley's class.