I started getting ready around 9:30. I was wearing my Transylvanian party attire and spiking my hair with some glittery hairspray left over from Halloween. I thought some of the glitter might look nice on my eyes, and proceeded to mace my own self like an idiot. I had my face under the faucet until the doorbell rang at 11.
Tiffany and Lisa came in to meet my dad. He told us all to “have fun and be safe.” That’s when I realized that I was scared. I’d never been out so late before nor been given so much freedom, and now I didn’t know quite what to do with it. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know what went on in the streets after midnight. I am probably the only person whom the D.A.R.E. program actually worked on.
I will never forget my first night sitting in that giant old movie theater. It had a balcony and seated about 500 people, though there were probably only 40 of us in the audience. Lisa, dressed as Columbia, looked stunning with her bobbed hair and sparkling clothes. Tiffany’s big, curly hair was teased into a nervous breakdown and topped with a tiny doily (she was Magenta). People were milling about in the aisles, laughing loudly, hugging one another, and passing Ziploc baggies full of toast and rice around. Some of the boys were dressed in tighty whities and robes like the character Brad, some wore tiny gold underpants like Rocky Horror, and the really brave ones dressed in full lingerie like Frank-N-Furter. There were other girls dressed as Columbia with their tap shoes and gold sequined top hats, Magentas in maid costumes, and some Janets in white bras and slips.
Most everyone seemed to be in high school or college; I was definitely the youngest one there. Everyone was really friendly to me.
“Is this your first time here?” one Magenta asked.
“Yes,” I said, blushing.
“Oooh! A vir-gin!” she squealed. “Hey, Joey, I got a virgin over here!”
“VIRGIN! VIRGIN! VIRGIN! VIRGIN!” the crown chanted. It was all happening just as I’d imagined, except I wasn’t wearing a white gown. Magenta took my hand and brought me up onstage along with six or eight other people. The rest is kind of a blur. I remember a heavyset man with a tiny megaphone shouting at us, “On your knees, virgins!” I got on my knees, and then a girl in a nurse’s uniform came around with a jar of maraschino cherries. She went down the line placing a single cherry between everyone’s teeth.
“Do not eat the cherries, you greedy little piglets!” the man with the megaphone said. “You are our sacrificial virgins, and we are going to pop all of your cherries! MUAHAHAHAHA!”
A cute guy, probably a freshman at the University of Colorado, with long brown hair, wearing just a vest and shorts, came up to me. He knelt down to face me and could probably see the animal panic in my eyes. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I won’t bite you.” He leaned in, caught the cherry out of my teeth with his, our lips barely grazing, and ate it. I had never been so close to another human being before in my whole life and I would never even know who he was. “Nice lips,” he said. My heart felt like it was going to blast off out of my chest and take off into orbit.
I was ushered back to my seat, no longer a virgin. The lights went down, the curtain rose on the screen and the famous 20th Century Fox logo appeared to its jangly piano accompaniment. Then everything went black, and in that dark void a red slash appeared. As it came closer and closer it became clear that the slash was a pair of lips, and Richard O’Brien, the writer of the movie, began to sing the song “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” and I don’t think I’d ever seen anything so beautiful.
The rest of the night was fun, but I remember kind of wishing people would stop shouting the audience-participation lines. I wanted to hear the movie on its own. The colors, the music, the actors—they were all gorgeous and strange and seemed like friends that I didn’t want everyone laughing at.
And that, as they say, was that. My first real teen obsession (after Marilyn Monroe—that’s another story) was born. My dad, thrilled that I was starting to come into myself more, encouraged my new mania. He sent away for a lot of cool memorabilia and I had a Very Rocky Horror Christmas.
Not long after this, Tiffany, Lisa, and I got the idea to reshoot the entire movie ourselves, scene by scene. I was put in charge of costumes, so I started calling local lingerie stores to get price quotes on teddies, feather boas, and garter belts. I was a little nervous to call about something so adult, so I started the phone calls by saying, “Hello. I am a filmmaker making a film, and I would like to know what you charge for satin corsets.” What kind of film they thought I was making I can only guess; I just didn’t want the decent, hardworking salespeople at Frederick’s of Hollywood to think I was some creepster. This didn’t end up being an issue, as most of the people I spoke to on the phone called me “ma’am.”
I was so excited about this new project I even told my mom. She was lying in bed with my little brother, Sean, one morning and I came in like a jumping bean, telling her about our costumes.
“Wait, you’re going to be wearing what?” she asked.
“A polyurethane vest, some stockings, and a low-heeled boot. Oh! And a ray gun.”
She looked at me blankly. “Yeah. I’m not so sure this movie is such a good idea,” she said.
I bet you thought I’d forgotten about Jesus, didn’t you?! Well, this was right around the time when he gate-crashed the party. My mom met a charismatic bible-beater at a local watering hole called the Outback Saloon. The most religious thing my mother had ever done to date was to drop Sean and me off once a month at Sunday School so she could have coffee and doughnuts with her friends who liked to go to a club called “A Course in Miracles.” But this was different. Ever since she had met Stan-Stan the Bible Man, as Sean and I called him, at the Outback, my mom had gone from zero to zealot in 60 seconds.
The first time my mom brought Stan over to my dad’s to meet us she said, “Can we show Stan your room?” My teenage bedroom was epic, and I enjoyed showing it off to people. Every inch of wall and ceiling space was covered in Christmas lights and posters, and all of the posters were covered in Saran Wrap for protection. There were movie posters, Marilyn Monroe posters, and Rocky Horror posters.
“Sure,” I said, eyeing him suspiciously. He was very tall with big teeth, a beard, an all-denim outfit, ringlets so tight it looked like he had pin-curled his hair, and a crucifix around his neck.
Stan looked around my room with its pink Christmasy glow. “Marilyn Monroe,” he said. “She’s hot.” I supposed that was true, though glamorous was the word that first came to my mind.
As he was about to leave I could feel his gaze get snagged like skin on a protruding nail. He was looking at a fold-out poster of Frank-N-Furter I’d gotten in a fanzine. “He–” Stan choked out. “He should be burned.”
My mother and I laughed nervously. “Yeah, Kevin,” she said. “You really don’t need to have that thing on your wall.” Traitor.
“He reminds me of the band Queen,” Stan continued. “I used to love them. Then I realized what kind of queen they were talking about. Now I only listen to Rush.”
They left, and I was shaking with rage and shame. Was Frank-N-Furter a queen? Was Tim Curry? Was I? What the hell was a queen aside from an antiquated figurehead of a monarchy? And, more important, what was this band Queen and how could I get all of their albums immediately?
I turned off all the lights in my room except for a strand of red Christmas lights. I put on “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” stood in my window looking out at the snowy parking lot outside my apartment building, and put one of the tiny red bulbs between my lips. In the darkness all I could see was my mouth, reflected back to me in the windowpane, electric red, as I lip-synced to Richard O’Brien’s voice.
I was radioactive with yearning, but I didn’t know what I was yearning for. It frightened me, because people can be defined by the things that they desire and even trapped by them. And yet maybe this yearning I felt wasn’t for anything a person could actually hold on to—maybe it was just the desire to belong to the world.
When I was 13, I knew some of the hard (tee-hee) facts about sex, but I had no idea what the sex-ed stuff had to do with all of the symphonic, loud, technicolor hormonal energy and emotion I was feeling 24 hours a day. How could you even begin to depict that? Oh! I know! Get a bunch of fabulous, beautiful people, dress them up in hilarious, sexy, feathery costumes, paint their faces the colors of the rainbow, and have them sing and dance to a bitchin’ rock score. And then blast them off into space.
I took the lightbulb from my lips and drew my curtains closed. I sat on the end of my bed and looked at the Rocky Horror CD insert with the pictures of its bizarre cast of characters: Magenta, Columbia, Riff Raff, Frank-N-Furter.
If there was a place in this crazy world for a man named Meat Loaf, then maybe, just maybe, there was a place for me, too. ♦
Kevin Townley is a New York-based writer and performer who still basically does all of the same silly stuff he did as a teenager, only on a slightly larger scale.