Moist Towelette's High School Reunion
It's the teen vengeance fantasy du jour: Scorned by mean-spirited classmates for being "different," a high school misfit flees Arizona for the more tolerant environs of Southern California, blossoms, then finally returns for the 10-year reunion in a triumphant blaze of fashion fabulosity that sets the student body on its collective ear.
The plot of Romy and Michele's High School Reunion?
Well, not quite.
But reverse the sexes, divide by two, then doll up this former scourge of the campus in a wig, minidress and size-15 high heels. Voila! You've got the makings of a real-life scenario that promised to be every bit as outlandish as the antics of Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino's dizzy reuniongoers.
More than a month after Sunnyslope High's Class of '87 reunion, some attendees still aren't sure what hit them.
But that's getting way ahead of a story--call it Wong Foo Does Carrie--10 years in the making.
Flash back to the Sunnyslope High Junior Prom, spring 1986. Enter Dennis Bevins, a flamboyant gay teenager, who, along with his friend Lisa Currie, thought it'd be fun to blow everyone's minds by showing up at the dance dressed in semiformal monster attire.
Bevins sported a tux, dead-white makeup and a towering Bride of Frankenstein hairdo, complete with silver lightning bolts. His date, meanwhile, was only slightly less startling, sporting a conventional prom gown and what one classmate vividly recalls a decade later as "hideous makeup and hideous hair."
Their fellow promgoers were not amused.
"It was awful," remembers Dennis Bevins. "The minute we got there, some big jock started in on me. 'What the fuck you lookin' at my girlfriend for, fag?' This went on all night. People started throwing stuff in our hair. We had our picture taken and we were out the door. We couldn't have been in there an hour."
That evening, Bevins and Currie forged a pact. Combing debris from their mile-high coifs, the pair vowed that they'd make a surprise appearance at their 10-year reunion--and really give everyone a show.
During last month's reunion at the Scottsdale Hilton, the pair finally made good on their long-ago pact.
Or at least Bevins did.
Now a professional drag queen who works under the name Moist Towelette, Bevins--accompanied by Currie--confidently swaggered up to the registration table outside the banquet room.
When the reunion coordinator looked up from the desk, she was startled to find herself staring up at a seven-foot Amazon suggesting a cross between Peg Bundy and Frankenhooker.
"I was a little nervous," Patti Munzert, co-owner of First Class Reunions, later confides. "We've been doing 40 or 50 reunions a year, and this was definitely a first. We've been in business for 15 years, and I've never seen anything like this happen."
The afternoon of the reunion, the twin outcasts kick back in a friend's home and eagerly anticipate the event for which they've waited so long. Never mind that, a decade later, their motives aren't exactly running on parallel tracks.
In close touch with Bevins for the past 10 years, Lisa Currie has returned to Phoenix to lend moral support and see old friends. Sort of a misfit by association, the onetime "fag hag" claims she could easily move within the school's various social circles whenever Bevins wasn't around.
But her flashy sidekick has darker designs.
"I'm here to shock and show 'em," says Bevins, who, as "Moist Towelette," is now a player in L.A.'s flourishing drag demimonde. "Ha ha! I'm still a freak!"
In reality, "freak" was one of the tamer epithets that echoed through the halls whenever Sunnyslope High's answer to Boy George was in the vicinity.
"Everything was 'fag this' and 'fag that'; I was always getting pushed all the time," recalls Bevins. "Of course, I was the one who provoked it all," he adds sarcastically. "It was my own fault because I was the one who came to school with makeup on and my hair standing on end."
"Some of those kids really did give him a rough time," explains Currie, now a computer consultant living in San Diego. "This was 10 years ago, and a lot of those people weren't ready for what he was doing."
But what he was doing at school was nothing compared to his extracurricular activities with Currie. The inseparable pair got jobs working side by side at Carl's Jr., somehow finagling a work schedule that left every weekend evening free. Decked out in bizarre makeup and hairdos, they'd hit a popular teen club called Tommy's--or, when they got lucky, sneak into a gay bar.
"What was really difficult for Dennis was that he was living this weird double life," says Currie, now a computer systems trouble-shooter for a San Diego law firm. "At Tommy's, everyone knew him--he was a star. Then he'd go to school, and he couldn't even raise his hand without someone yelling 'fag.'"
Things weren't much better at home, a single-parent household Bevins shared with his perplexed mother and a half-sister who reportedly had little interest in her stunning sib. "Since high school, my mother's been telling me I look like a freak," says Bevins, who dropped out of school at the end of his junior year. "Now that she's seeing me on TV and I'm making a little money, she's finally getting used to the idea. A little."
Aside from lacquered nails, tweezed eyebrows and so many piercings that his ears resemble the binding on a spiral notebook--affectations now embraced by some artsy heteros--Dennis Bevins' current appearance couldn't be less startling.
Lanky, languid and laid-back, his drag-free demeanor is wildly at odds with the over-the-top "inner woman" simmering beneath the surface. With his soft, sleepy voice, he might be a gawky basketball player who just woke up from a nap.
By contrast, Moist Towelette is a refugee from an overheated dream, a gimlet-eyed seductress who looks as if she escaped from an old Terry and the Pirates comic strip. The cartoonish creation grew out of a Halloween-party impersonation of the villain in Russ Meyer's cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!--a butch go-go dancer who dispatches victims with judo chops.
Bevins groans. "Big hairy belly hanging out, shoes two sizes too small, makeup from Thrifty--whoever let me out of the house looking that way should have been shot."
If there's any shooting going on near Moist Towelette these days, it's done with a camera. Since giving birth to the character several years ago, Bevins has landed TV appearances on Roseanne, Wings, MTV's Loveline and numerous rock videos. On stage, he's appeared in Joan Crawford's old role in a drag production of The Women and has performed at Dragstrip 66. Screen work includes a bit part in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Eraser; and he provided comic relief as a white-trash lesbian in the porn video The Hills Have Bi's, a role that earned him a "best nonsexual performance" nomination from an adult-video magazine. He'll also be seen in the upcoming Leather Jacket Love Story, an indie featuring John Waters regular Mink Stole.
Softening Towelette's rough edges for last fall's big "Battle for the Tiara" AIDS fund raiser in L.A., Bevins made his drag-pageant debut. Posing as "Miss Texas," he performed a crowd-pleasing square-dance spoof with a height-challenged partner that climaxed when Bevins stripped down to a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader outfit, mounted a coin-operated supermarket horse and then lassoed his partner and hog-tied him. The first-timer placed third--quite an achievement in a contest where politics and personal following are half the game.
A buyer for a chain of porn shops since 1990, Bevins recently gave up that job to concentrate on his drag career. Now working part-time in a high-end designer-furniture business, he estimates he spent more than $7,000 last year keeping Moist Towelette in style.
"Drag is very addicting and very liberating," he explains. "When you've got the wig, the makeup and the dress going, something happens. You can be absolutely insane and do things you'd never ever do if you weren't in drag."
A quick drag fix was exactly what Dennis Bevins could have used during a prereunion get-together the night before the actual event. Attending a reception at a Mexican restaurant wearing nothing more protective than street clothes, he momentarily panicked.
"'This is ridiculous,'" Bevins remembers thinking. "'There's no way I can go through with this. This isn't going to be any fun.'"
Currie picks up the story. "We recognized a few people, but only marginally," she explains. "If these were the only people who were going to attend Saturday night, maybe we shouldn't even bother to go. The problem was that there were no people that we disliked enough to irritate--or people that we liked enough to have fun with."
In an attempt to salvage the evening, the pair phoned a friend from school and convinced her to come over to the reception for a drink. When she finally showed up several margaritas later, the party had gotten considerably looser. When word spread among guests that an off-duty drag queen was in their midst, the line to Bevins' table formed to the right.
"Once the girls found out I was a drag queen, they were all Chatty Cathy," says Bevins. "Like, 'What are you going to wear tomorrow night?' When they found out I brought a short dress, it was all, 'Oh, girl, we should wear our short dresses, too.' Suddenly, everyone knew me."
The Big Moment has arrived. Moist Towelette and Lisa Currie have hardly stepped into the banquet room when the buzz starts.
"Ohhh, my God . . ."
"That person was in our class!?"
Smiling glacially and staring straight ahead, Bevins makes his way through the fashionably dressed crowd and heads directly for the bar. Pretending not to notice the undercurrent of attention their arrival has caused, Bevins and Currie feign chitchat while they wait for their order, knowing full well 400 eyes are watching their every move.
Somewhere across the room, several baffled women frantically flip through yearbooks, not quite sure exactly who--or what--it is they're looking for.
Abruptly whirling around, Bevins leans against the bar and takes a dramatic pull off a longneck beer bottle. Surveying former classmates from beneath a fringe of inchlong eyelashes, he looks like an extraterrestrial bar girl just daring anyone to say a word.
So far, the evening's gone according to a plan Bevins had mapped out earlier: "We'll show up early, let everyone get a good look at us--then leave before anyone has a chance to get too liquored up."
But only minutes later, his carefully crafted plot to scandalize his classmates begins unraveling fast when he's besieged by several "Chatty Cathys" from the night before, eager to get a closer look at his get-up. The ice broken, Bevins is soon holding court, joking about old times with several dozen reuniongoers who've come over to see him. Basking in the glow of disposable-camera flashes, Bevins congratulates one attendee on her good taste--the woman is wearing a dress nearly identical to his.
"I was surprised he showed up," reports classmate Deanna Leo. "That was very, very bold of him. And he looks damn good . . . better than all the girls here tonight. In school, everyone was so mean to him. Sure, he tried to be different, but Dennis is, well, Dennis."
Chalk it up to maturity or the media's recent mainstreaming of drag queens, but the unthinkable has happened. If a poll were taken tonight, it's a cinch that Dennis Bevins, former Junior Prom Reject, would be named Belle of the Ball.
Okay, so that vote might not be unanimous. Nearly half of the people here are spouses or dates of classmates and never even attended Sunnyslope High. And Bevins' elaborate persecution memories to the contrary, many attendees claim they have no recollection of him at all--not surprising upon learning the '87 graduating class numbered more than 300 students.
"I can't remember him from nothing," says Larry Wright, a former classmate who now operates a hair salon with his wife. "I'd need to see a yearbook. There's just too much hair, too much makeup, too much of everything."
"I'll be honest," says another alum with a shrug. "I smoked too much dope in high school and I don't remember anything."
But others who remember Bevins corroborate his stories of long-ago gay-bashing.
Matt Knowles, now a Southern California process engineer, still remembers that junior-prom fiasco. "There were some people there that night that wanted to beat him up, but luckily, it didn't happen. I guess everyone always knew he was [gay] and gave him a hard time."
Another classmate puts it more succinctly. "Some people were assholes," says Laki Tsaninos, an insurance broker who's known Bevins since grade school. "People can be mean in high school; I can sleep every night because I know I wasn't. But, yeah, it was bad for Dennis."
Tonight, meanwhile, couldn't be better. By the time awards are to be given out, Bevins has his own highly vocal cheering section and takes "Most Changed" kudos in a walk.
For a moment, it looks like he's also bagged "Most Unusual Occupation" (the crowd is audibly impressed that he's appeared on Roseanne), but Bevins ultimately loses to an Army sniper. The emcee jokingly apologizes for the upset, explaining that everyone was afraid to vote against Bevins' competitor for fear that they'd be shot.
Taking a pass on the "Most Eligible Bachelor" category, the mostly ineligible bachelor retires to the patio for a smoke and admits he's stunned at the turn the evening has taken.
"I'm really having a good time," says Bevins, preening in the reflective surface of a brass wall plaque. "I guess what's really amazing to me is how well everyone's dealing with this. I thought that there would be no room in their minds for anything fresh or new or exciting." Pause. "I find this very surprising," he says, almost sadly.
Even his co-conspirator isn't exactly sure what's going on beneath that wig.
"Dennis has always liked attention," says Lisa Currie. "I think the whole point of coming back for the reunion was that he finally wanted acceptance--or one last piss-off."
Currie laughs. "When we were planning this, I told Dennis that if he really wanted to shake everyone up, he should show up in a suit, with someone like Traci Lords as his date," she says. "Now that would have shocked everyone.
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