To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Adam West.

adamwestMy relationship with the Dark Knight is complicated. Growing up with my sister’s hand me down Barbies and an extensively impressive Amelia Bedelia book collection, comic books never made it into the hallowed purple walls of my bedroom.  I never played Superheros- I played House.  Instead of embodying the caped crusader, I embodied the heteronormative housewife.  My fake eggs and bacon were to die for, and you’ve never lived until you tried my scratch and sniff plastic Baskin Robins ice cream. Who is Batman?

In fifth grade, the only thing that could get me out of my very Catholic aunt’s house at 4:45pm on weekdays was Batman. Aunt Pat would pick my sister and I up from school every afternoon, the felt seats in her mauve van riddled with pressed crayon stains and petrified fruit snacks.  We were the first stop. Then we went to the other Catholic middle school to pick up another six cousins. After that, we headed to the suburbs and did what every gaggle of middle school hellraisers do: we made rosaries. No joke. I have developed early onset carpel tunnel from the millions of tiny beads I threaded on waxed string and the knots I tied with extreme precision at my aunt’s coffee table. We were doing God’s work.  I fucking hated it.  When my dad swooped in to pick me up, I knew what time it was. It was almost 5pm. Rosary beads would fly everywhere as I ran to our Honda, monogrammed LL Bean backpack on my lap and seat belt buckled. We had to be home by 5! Batman was on.

Yes, that Batman.  Adam West. Burt Ward. And my absolute favorite… Yvonne Craig as Batgirl. She wasn’t in every episode, but when she was there was an alternate opening in the credits, she would always make an appearance… and I got really fucking pumped.  Plopped on the couch with a Hi-C and orange lips, I would watch some of the best actors from the 60’s coupled with some of the worst special effects. The Batcave had computers that looked like my Fisher-Price calculator.  The Batboat had faint schmears of glue on the sides where the Bat Logo was attached. The tights were iridescent and the dialogue was corny- I was hooked.

Egghead was my favorite. Maybe because of his ignorantly portrayed Russian female sidekick. Maybe because he tried to drown Batgirl in cavier. Maybe because Vincent Price is just an incredible actor… I chock it up to my good taste and impeccable acting chops even at an early age.  Each ethnocentric stereotype just made me more enthralled with this ridiculous show. But as I entered high school (and Fox stopped playing Batman reruns at 5pm), my relationship with the Caped Crusader faded, with nothing left but a few VHS home recordings labeled “Batman 1” and “Batman 5”.

When I was 18, my parents divorced. My mother’s reaction was swift and fierce. Her fabulous forties weren’t going to be bogged down with split holiday dinners and therapist copays. No no… she would take my sister and I on a glorious divorce trip to New York City for Christmas. No multiple holiday parties, no tears, just Rockefeller center ice skating and steak dinners… anything to get us away from our father.  My mom bought us tickets to see Hairspray, a John Waters film adaptation of a chubby girl who JUST WANTED TO DANCE. After the show, we left the theatre, fresh snow and cigarette butts crunching under our boots. My sister hailed a cab. The cabbie was from Cuba, and my sister, being an ivy league educated sorority girl who just came back from a semester abroad in Madrid, started chatting with him in Spanish about the best mojito in the city. My mother’s worried glances were nothing compared to my tepid excitement over drinking in a real New York City bar. The only time I drank up to that point was when my two friends from theatre school and I snuck a couple Coronitas into my basement and each chugged one. We were HAMMERED.

The cab dropped us off after 15 minutes and the snow started falling faster.  We tucked into a two-story brick building with no signs and walked down into the basement.  Faint salsa music complimented planked cedar walls and round booths with cracked mahogany cushions.  The lights were so dim I could barely see the bar. Mom and I tentatively grabbed a booth… the walls were scarce with tacked up and signed pictures of Cuban boxers and celebrities, and above the bar a large poster of Fidel Castro with some Spanish writing below it yellowed and cracked from age. Besides a few hunched men at the bar, we were the only customers.

I had never had a mojito.  Sweet and cold, the muddled mint masked the strength of Cuban rum.  My mother didn’t question when my sister brought back three mojitos from the bar instead of two, and I never acknowledged her acquiescence. Three rounds in, the raucous conversation from our booth drowned out the salsa music, and I looked at my mom and sister. This is it, I thought. This is the best time to tell them.

I polished off my third mojito and said, “Okay guys, I have something serious to tell you.” They became quiet and sullen. “I don’t know how to tell you, but I’ve been meaning to tell you for a long time.” They exchanged glances in preparation for my announcement, certain of its message.

“I’m… Batman.”

My mom and sister swear to this day they have never laughed so hard in their life.  When I experienced my first hangover the next morning, my sister asked me if I had any anti-hangover pills next to the shark repellent in my utility belt. My mom still tells this story, she told it last weekend when I visited her, bellowing over the laughs of my sister as she relayed the tale to family and friends.

I’m not sure why that came out. Maybe it was the rum, maybe all the 1960’s dance moves from Hairspray reminded me of the episode when Adam West is forced to dance to death on a burning hot floor (and of course left alone by his arch-nemesis of the week to figure a way out.) Whatever it was, I will not be able to have a glass of wine without my Mom asking me, “You okay, Batman?” And immediately cracking herself up.

I owe a lot to the Dark Knight.  He gave me a respite from child labor, and was there for me in one of my darkest and loneliest times, when I felt so isolated sitting in front of my own family that I didn’t know what to say.

So thank you. Thank you Adam West. Thank you all the Batmans. For the best night of my life.

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