:: Article

Let’s Do the Timewarp Again, Again

By Manny Dahilig.

She tells me, in an usherette’s professional hush, that her father wore a black, curly wig, what Maybelline marketed as Midnight Black lipstick, and fishnet stockings. Black, of course, she adds.

Tonight it’s Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Sterling Hayden’s deadpan baritone makes the theater’s sole, functioning speaker crackle. Music, too. The whole affair is pretty much indecipherable. Doesn’t matter. I know every word.

We’re the only ones here, the two of us. The ticket girl/concessionaire/projectionist/usherette and me.

The lovely crackpot hissing at me from the aisle, telling me her life story, has trouble keeping eye contact, often turns away. Her voice wavers slightly, like the alignment of the film in the projector. Her cheeks are pale one moment, then darken the next. She is blushing.

She tells me her father came to this theater, this very one, every Friday at midnight to lead the Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast. We’re in the front row, where the stuffing is still intact in the seat cushions. I pat the one next to me, turn back to the movie, and hear her click her way down. She sits and continues, breath dusty with the expired, black licorice overflowing from the concession case in the lobby, “This is what my mother wore. She was in the RHPS—Rocky Horror Picture Show—That’s what we call it. She was in the RHPS shadowcast.”

She removes her top hat and places it reverently on the seat beside her. I see George C. Scott reflected in her novelty sunglasses, two of him. She straightens her bow tie with gloves the same off-white as her sugar-worn teeth and adjusts her cummerbund. As a final gesture, she pinches her miniskirt and gives it a perfunctory pull. Her creamy legs appear radioactive in the darkness. “My name is Janet, by the way.” She blushes.

She gestures toward the area in front of the screen with her chin, which is fine and pointed, like Tracey Reed’s, the actress playing Scott’s secretary. “There,” she says, still whispering, “is where the shadowcast performed.” When Tim Curry tossed off his cloak with a flourish, so did her father. Each character in the film had a counterpart in the shadowcast, she explained. Whatever they did on the big screen, the shadowcast mimicked, in front of the audience. The space is cluttered now, with a broken popcorn machine, enough boxes of black licorice to feed a child into adulthood, and a beat up, walnut-cased upright piano which accompanied the shadow players as they sang along to RHPS.

Janet takes my hand. Her mother was what they called a RHPS virgin, she goes on to explain. She had never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show until her friends pressured her into pressuring the theater’s owner—Janet’s grandfather, to run the film every Friday at midnight. Soon, she’s spitting the words to “Hot Patootie” right back at the screen and modifying her usherette’s uniform, one painstaking sequin at a time. Her face also flashes Hot Harlot Red after locking eyes with the cross-dressing lead of the shadowcast, whose name, serendipitously, is Frank.

Before I know it, Janet has straddled me. Her thighs, despite their deathly white color, are hot, as if from fever. She continues, running a gloved hand through my hair: It was on a night like this her mother, normally a reserved, introverted girl, so riled by the evening’s performance, ran to the front of the theater and joined the cast for a reprisal of “Time Warp”. She shimmied backwards right into Frank, reached back, pulled his cloak over both of them with one hand, reached into his underwear with the other, paused, adjusted, and continued shimmying backward. They–this creature resembling a two headed, black-shelled turtle with an energetic bout of hiccups–rallied the packed theater into four more reprisals of the song.

The meek sang that night, vocal chords stretching to the breaking point. The wallflowers leapt up and danced. The clumsy bounded through the air in perfect arcs, seams tearing in their homemade costumes. Exhibitionists stood back in the shadows to give them room. Class clowns wept.

When it ended, Janet’s mother made her way to the utility closet, got a broom, and began sweeping popcorn. A dazed Frank and the young man playing Rocky walked home, still in costume. A carload of boys, riled for different reasons, beat them dead.

On the screen, there are two Peter Sellers. Janet palms my cheeks with her gloved hands as she rocks against me. The speaker is crackling again, so I recite dialogue. Soon, the seat is groaning and it drowns me out. Janet looks up toward the projection booth–toward, I imagine, her mother, who is watching her shadow perform.


Manny Dahilig
works demeaning, menial jobs, then returns home and writes short fiction about demeaning, menial jobs.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, August 26th, 2009.