After a Fashion

Stephen does drag in cartwheels or cartwheels in drag... you'll have to read to figure it out

Lady Bird Johnson and Liz Carpenter at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's gala celebration and fundraiser. The very successful event raised nearly $490,000, the most the event has raised in its 10-year history.
Lady Bird Johnson and Liz Carpenter at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's gala celebration and fundraiser. The very successful event raised nearly $490,000, the most the event has raised in its 10-year history. (by Get the Picture, Inc)

EASIER?: Self-checkout at the grocery store is such a great idea – if only it worked. "Please scan your first item," the capable-yet-friendly synthesized voice of a woman tells me. OK, cool, I can do that. I pass a two-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi by the screen. "$1.29," the voice says, and I place the item in a bag. "There is an unexpected item in the bagging area," says the voice. There is no unexpected item. I've only scanned one item, the screen registered it, and it's in the bag. What's unexpected about that? I do not remove the item. But when I try to continue, the device switches from a capable female voice who sounds like she lives in Davenport Ranch to a more urgent male voice that reminds me of the robot's voice on Lost in Space urging me to "Remove the item before continuing!" but sounding more like "Drop the weapon!" I quickly remove the item, and the process is ready to continue, except that the item has already been rung up but I cannot put it down without the machine accusing me of trying to steal again. Gingerly (and probably looking like Dr. Zachary Smith) I return the item to the bag, ignoring the dire warnings. I scan my next item, another bottle of Diet Pepsi, which stops the accusing voice. "$1.29," says the woman's voice again, and as I move to place it in the bag with the other one, the male voice comes on, telling me I have to rescan the item or enter its code. By now, I have the image of a male/female parental unit inside the machine playing good cop/bad cop with me. When all is going well, we have the capable female voice, but when things get tough, Dad steps in. But the second item's price is already listed on the screen, so there's no reason to re-enter it. Five minutes later, when all three of my items are scanned and bagged and I push the "Finish and Pay" button, "Please check your basket," the woman's voice orders me. I quickly look down at my crotch to see if my zipper's down or something, then realize they want me to see if I've forgotten anything in my cart. Everything is accounted for. I pay but before I receive my change, the machine is ordering me to remove my groceries. I'm a little fed up at this point; I was all ready to make this process fly by and be done with it. It wasn't me who had trouble understanding whether an item that was rung up should be in a bag or not. It wasn't me who didn't understand that if the scanner read my item then I didn't have to rescan it. But now that I've gotten the infernal thing to complete the transaction, it's giving me grief for not removing my bags of groceries as quickly as it thinks I should. What's especially galling is that these machines are supposed to be easier and save the store money (a discount that will never be passed on to us). Instead, we are forced to put up with the incompetency of a machine that doesn't even give us the satisfaction of being rude to it in return. Forget it. I'm willing to stand in line and wait for incompetency.

CARTWHEEL, PA.: I have just returned from a memorial service in New Hope, Pa. I always enjoy going there since it's so steeped in history. Among so many things to see, I was sorry to see that the Cartwheel Inn had burned down. On a previous visit, we passed the Cartwheel, and my mother said that when they were children, the family would go there for Sunday breakfast after church, and my uncle shared some of his memories of it. So we decided to go there for dinner: my mother; my uncle Tom; his wife, Judy; my aunt Audrey; my uncle Bob; and me. We were seated at a table, and the server arrived – an exotically made-up young woman who seemed to have something extra (male genitals, I guessed). As the opening strains of "I Am What I Am" from La Cage Aux Folles reached our ears, truth sank in. The Cartwheel Inn had become a full-fledged drag bar, and our server, whom we'll call Trixie, was apparently part of a harem of lovely pre-op trannies who worked as "showgirls." The reactions of my elderly relatives went from incredulous to intrigued to amused, and considering that this location, so dear to their memories, had been so desecrated, they all handled it with great aplomb (the same aplomb I employed upon finding out that the word "Presbyterians" contains all the same letters as "Britney Spears").

DATE BOOK: It's time again for the award-winning Arthouse 5x7 Preview Party this Saturday, May 14, 7:30pm, at Arthouse at the Jones Center. This is one of the best events on our annual calendar. Go to www.arthousetexas.org for info and tickets… Also at 7:30 is the AIDS Services of Austin benefit at F8 Fine Art Gallery (1137 W. Sixth) – new art, glorious flowers, divine food and wine, and music from the fabulous Denia Ridley and Marc Devine Trio. Go to www.asaustin.org and www.f8fineart.com for more info.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Self-checkout, grocery store, Diet Pepsi, New Hope, PA, Cartwheel Inn, La Cage Aux Folles, Arthouse, 5x7 Preview Party, Arthouse at the Jones Center, AIDS Services of Austin, F8 Fine Art Gallery

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