Strange Times

This life we lead offers some odd twists and turns, does it not? It often places us in situations such as we might never have imagined for ourselves.

So it was that I found myself onstage before a packed house at Fez, a nightspot on Manhattan's Lower East Side, an unlikely - but not unhopeful - contestant in a Dusty Springfield lookalike contest.

The occasion was the latest Loser's Lounge, an approximately quarterly event that pays tribute each time it's held to a different pop music icon from the '60s or occasionally the '70s. The house band, the Kustard Kings, plays behind an ever-varying lineup of downtown performers who stop by to warble a tune identified with that night's honoree. Past subjects have ranged from Neil Diamond to Elton John, from Carole King to Burt Bacharach, but on this night homage was being paid to the queen of blue-eyed soul herself, Dusty Springfield. Following the second of the evening's three sets, a Dusty lookalike contest was held. The top prize was a 3-disc Springfield boxed set and there were four additional prizes of single disc samplers taken from that collection.

Prizes worth coveting, there's no doubt, but I am not, at first glance, someone one might consider an suitable entrant: Dusty Springfield, for example, has blond hair while mine is brown. She has no facial hair and I sport a goatee. Oh, and there's the fact that she's a woman and I am a man.

But the contest was off to a slow start: Only a pair of entrants had stepped onstage and when the emcee announced that there were no gender restrictions on contestants, I thought, what the heck.

I expected to get a good laugh from the crowd as I stepped into the spotlight and so I did. Really, that should have been reward enough but I found myself coveting one of those CDs. I didn't expect to win the contest but surely, on the novelty factor alone, I could snag a runnerup spot. But soon four more women and one more man each got up the nerve to enter the contest. Even the gender novelty factor, once so firmly in my favor, was now split between me and this interloper.

What I didn't know was that this was no mere popularity contest; there were three different categories in which the eight contestants were to be judged. The first: Appearance, with special attention paid to hair color (Strike one!), eyeliner (Strike two!) and gown (You're out!). But this was not, we were assured by the emcee, a mere lookalike competition but also a Dusty feelalike contest. So my hopes, faint as they were, lay in the latter two categories: Emotion and Poise.

For the former, each contestant was to step up to the mike and recite the title of the hit song Springfield recorded with the Pet Shop Boys in 1987: "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" I watched as the two entrants preceding me did a semi-tank on their delivery and, fearing that this might be my one good chance to make a favorable impression on the judges, I gave it my all, summoning up all the pain, disappointment, and disillusionment that ever I've suffered. I even threw in a pregnant pause worthy of a soap opera star for additional dramatic effect. Stepping away from the mike and back to the chorus line of contestants, I felt good; I'd done my best. The emcee's reaction to my performance? He quipped, "Well, it looks as though someone took acting classes in junior college." Little did he know how right he was: I have a B.F.A. in theatre.

And painful memories from those acting classes were soon to come back to haunt me. For the final category, we were asked to exhibit poise as we left the stage by posing, a la Agnes Moorehead's Endora on the old Bewitched television show. Remember that thing she did with her hands whenever she disappeared in a huff or put a spell on Durwood? That's the sort of gesture they were looking for and I can't deny that I choked. My mind was a blank. I froze just as I used to freeze during improv exercises in those acting classes of yore. A mere few moments on that stage became for me a near eternity of torment. I wracked my brain trying to gain the inspiration to strike even the feeblest of poses but if my life had depended on it, I could not have done so. I finally realized it was not to be and slinked off the stage in shame.

Of course, as the prizes were about to be announced, I still held out hope that somehow my performance in the second category might be enough to carry me. Or that perhaps the judges would give me credit for having had the nerve to be the first male to enter the competition.

But alas, it was not to be. The fourth, third, second, and first runners-up were all announced and my name was not among them. The winner of the grand prize was Ms. Kiki Durain, one of the featured performers in that night's show.

I won't deny my disappointment at losing, but I've lost before and survived and shall do so again. Just as I turned my back on the gridiron the day I realized I was never going to be a star football player, so have I now turned my back on lookalike contests devoted to blond female pop stars from the 1960s. But I have not given up; I shall continue to endeavor to find something at which I can excel. All emailed suggestions are welcome.

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