THAT’S MY BABY - PATRICIA ABBOTT
Lulu Stephanides, Manager of Flo’s Escapades on Eight Mile Road hired the Club’s top headliner when Johnny LeCroix walked through the door one October day. She’d taken over hiring the acts a few months earlier when her boss, Bill Steves, began a 3-5 year stint at Jackson for bribing city officials.
It was quickly apparent Lulu was better at spotting talent than Steves had been, and the weekend crowds more than doubled. Although most of the acts centered on erotic dancing, Lulu liked to vary the bill with magicians, singers, and standup comedians. Of course, no one appearing at Flo’s Escapades would pull double duty at a PTA fundraiser. That was a given for joints on Eight Mile.
Johnny LeCroix arrived at Flo’s well on the road to femaledom—a girl except for the final chop. A pushup bra displayed his best features, which he fingered self-consciously like a man does a new beard. Luckily Johnny’s wide shoulders helped him to carry it off. Someone needed to tell him though that the extreme hip swivel wasn’t necessary and lowering his voice an octave would make him less conspicuous.
Lulu looked him over, wondering why trannies all believed the essence of a woman lay in things like manicures and mascara. This Johnny, soon to be Joan, had every superficial attribute in place, but you only had to look at his jaw to know his sex. No woman ever had a set of teeth like his. And although his hands were small for a man, they lacked delicacy. His determination to highlight his expensive manicure (blue nails; glittery tips) by waving his mitts around only made things worse.
He saw the disinterest on her face and jumped in saying, “Look, my act ain’t really about the sex thing. That’s just my circumstances at the moment. I was born in a suitcase, you know.”
Lulu wondered just how his jaw had fit into one but waved him on.
“I think the saying goes, ‘I was born in a trunk,” Lulu said, stepping back as one of the blue balls he had removed from his case escaped. “And there’s no trick in juggling two balls, my friend. It’s torches and hatchets nowadays. Last week a fellow dressed like SpongeBob claimed he could juggle grenades. I declined an audition, of course.”
She was turning her back on Johnny when he added. “Wait, Miss, you haven’t even seen me feed the dog yet. You won’t want to miss that. It’s the grand finale.”
If Lulu remembered correctly “feeding the dog” was an old yoyo stunt. “Come back when you have something new to show me,” she said. But before she reached the lobby door, a shrieking yip cut through the room as Johnny removed a black and white Chihuahua from his satchel.
“This is Baby,” he shouted over the barking. “Everyone loves my Baby.” Baby confirmed the sentiment by barking all the louder.
“Look, this ain’t Letterman, Johnny,” Lulu said. “We don’t put stupid pet tricks on our stage. Why don’t you come by tonight and get the lay of the land?”
But her exit had already slowed to a crawl.
Lulu liked dogs. Even yippers like Baby. Her disdain for human beings was turned on its head when she looked into a canine’s face. She’d never owned one though. First her parents, then her ex- husband claimed allergies. And although there was no reason not to have one now, a nightclub seemed like a poor place for a pet to spend its days and she was at the club fifteen hours a day, six days a week. A dog this size, in particular, would really be underfoot. She shook off this thought and looked away.
“I can dress her up if you want,” Johnny said, pulling a frilly doll dress from his bag, “but most people like to see Baby in action. Her legs go like little pistons. Wait till you see.” He grabbed Baby’s legs to demonstrate, and the yipping began again.
Feigning ennui, Lulu waved him back onto center stage and sank back into her chaise. Johnny was an eyeful all right, but it was Baby who grabbed her attention.
The act turned out to be pure gold, and within days people flooded the Club to see Johnny feed the dog. There wasn’t much fanfare—just the two of them bathed in a cool blue light with Johnny starting off by singing some dip-shitty song about Mexican moons and senoritas. He considered himself an excellent singer, though most would disagree. But since it set the mood for what came next, she let it stand. He had an old record player from the fifties to play his background music—claiming it added more visual interest than a tape player would. Baby seemed mesmerized by the song and at various points would add her own soulful accompaniment. Which was a scream. And that might have been enough but…
When the last note faded, when their two voices died out, when Johnny had carefully lifted the needle off the album—the dog grabbed the elasticized neck of Johnny’s blouse, yanked it down, and proceeded to suckle Johnny’s left breast with such fervor her entire body shook like a bolt of electricity was passing through it. And, as promised, her legs pumped like mad. But the right breast turned out to be the brass ring of the act because once anchored there, Baby cooed with content for a few seconds and promptly fell asleep. The ending brought a roar of approval every night. Johnny, cradling Baby, took a final bow and then tucked Baby back into the bassinet on stage.
“I pepper the nipples with a little Ambien,” he explained to Lulu. “The vet okayed it,” he added when he saw her face. “He prescribes it for hyper dogs like Baby all the time. I’ve used it myself more than once.”
“I gotta admit,” Lulu told Johnny, “it’s the best damned act on Eight Mile Road.” She gave him a raise after that first night and every month after. No one ever got tired of watching Johnny feed the dog. Especially Lulu.
She encouraged Johnny to hang around too, even leaving Baby with her when he had errands to run. Baby was a show biz dog and was content to spend her days listening with Lulu to the singers, standups and strippers trying out for the club. Since Johnny’s appearance, they were getting top-bill entertainers begging for a week rather than the typical night or two between more important gigs. Flo’s Escapade had become a destination.
“Doc says it’s time for the chop,” Johnny told her a few months later. “So I guess I’ll be moving on. Once I’m all woman, I won’t be doing dumb-ass routines like this one. I got bigger plans. I’m thinking Vegas or New York. I’ve been taking dancing lessons, a little acting too.”
Johnny looked like he meant it and Lulu nodded mechanically.
“But I’ll have to keep the dog,” she told him as he turned to go. “You won’t need her cramping your style as you work your way up to the big time.” Ha, she thought to herself. “I’ll find another tranny to feed her. Shouldn’t take long.” She eyed him speculatively. “You newbie girls are like mold on a showerhead lately.”
“Hey, I got a big surgery coming up—you know what I mean. I can’t go through it without that little dog in my corner rooting for me.” Johnny shook his head. “She’s all I got.”
“You’re not even planning to use her in the act, right? That’s what you said.”
He shook his head. “I’m planning on a classier act. But who says Baby can’t be a regular mutt. She’s earned her retirement.”
Lulu watched them perform for the last time a few nights later, weeping surreptitiously from her chaise. She hadn’t even had the heads-up to advertise the final show and the crowd was only fair on a Tuesday. She wasn’t that eager to alert their patrons of Baby’s goodbye.
Later that night, Lulu followed Johnny home to his flat. She trudged up the stairs and knocked softly on his door, shooting him in the neck the second he opened the door. The gun was the one kept in the Club’s wall safe. She hadn’t been sure it would fire.
As Lulu bundled the yipping dog into the satchel and prepared to leave, she reminded Johnny’s cooling body, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”