I hobbled to the bathroom as fast as I could, shut the door and gasped out in pain. I dropped the $800 in cash I had been holding on the floor and threw myself onto the closed toilet seat. Blood dripped down onto my pile of crumpled hundred dollar bills, so I grabbed some toilet paper and applied pressure to the part of my leg that was gushing.
As I pulled away the many layers of white tulle from my costume, I got a closer look at my injury. My fall had embedded a portion of my Capezio fishnets into my leg and raw bloodied skin was peeking up between each diamond shape. A deep black bruise had already formed and was starting to travel up my calve. At that moment the man I had hired for the night knocked on the door to let me know he had to head out.
Four months prior, I opened up my email to find a message from Genovia. “Hi, I saw your website and you look so much like Lady Gaga it is crazy. I’m wondering if you would be able to come perform at my sister Sarah’s high school graduation party in our backyard in June and what your rate would be? We want to make it seem really authentic like a real Lady Gaga show but there’s no stage or lights or anything. Just the grass. And a back porch light. Hope to hear from you soon.”
These kinds of emails were frequent but always the most annoying because the clients generally didn’t even have the budget to hire a DJ, let alone rent the lighting and stage needed to produce the idealistic concert production they were imagining in their heads.
I rolled my eyes when reading the request but still sent back my standard response to Genovia which laid out my rates and requirements. This was usually enough to put off people with low end/low budget gigs who I didn’t want to work with, so I was surprised when I received a response back that Genovia was down to meet all of the requirements and my rate. After several more emails I was finally able to convince her that if she wanted the most authentic fake Lady Gaga performance she would need to rent a sound system with large speakers and ideally hire backup dancers and fake bodyguards. Since her budget was limited she went to contract minus the dancers with just one bodyguard.
As the gig approached, I took to Craigslist to try and find an authentic bodyguard type to get paid $150 in cash to stand around and “protect me” during my hour long gig. The next day I had fifty-seven responses in my inbox. Some of them just had selfies with no text. Some were from models with professional headshots. Some had business resumes but no photo. Some had photos of a penis.
After sifting through the mess, I set up a quick phone interview with Alex who was the right height and build. Alex was a FIT model and was looking for extra gigs to make ends meet. He seemed slightly skeptical that all he had to do was show up and stand around and was going to get paid that much. I gave him the address of the gig and we agreed to meet on site twenty minutes prior to start time.
Two weeks later I packed up my giant duffle bag with my seven inch crystal covered platforms, disco stick, wig, and accessories, threw my garment bag over my shoulder and headed out on the subway. I was already regretting my decision to take the train vs a taxi, but I hadn’t had a gig in many weeks and needed to save the $75. I neared the ass end of Bay Ridge Brooklyn, exited the station and used my phone to navigate to Genovia’s house. My oversized canvas duffle bag was digging deep into my shoulder as I neared the end of my several block walk. I really should have taken a taxi. I looked up and finally spotted the large four story brownstone I had been looking for. I dragged myself up the stairs and rang the doorbell. Two minutes went by and no one came to the door. I tried again with no response. Did I have the wrong address? I dug through my email to find Genovia’s number and called to tell her I was at the front door. She picked up and I heard Justin Bieber music blasting in the background. “Hello Gaga! I will be right there! We’re in the backyard at the party!” she yelled into the phone. Moments later Genovia flung open the front door. She was tinier then I expected at no more than 5’3 with dyed jet black hair, a nose ring and a way too dark bottled fake tan. She was wearing black leather pants and stilettos with a corset. It was definitely not what you’d expect someone to be wearing to a high school graduation party.
“Hi! Nice to meet you! How is the party going so far?” I asked. “They are having fun but getting bored so we can’t wait to get you out there. I’ll show you the dressing area. You should have everything you need in there to get ready.”
I followed Genovia through a large cheery and floral living room and down two flights of stairs. What I saw when she turned on the light was such a stark contrast to the rest of the house that my jaw dropped. In front of me was a dim, large bedroom with the ceiling fully covered mirrors.
The walls were painted bright red and nearly every piece of furniture in the room was black.
The comforter on the bed was black satin and candelabras with black and red candlesticks were scattered around the room. Lush crushed velvet throws hung over chairs and large, half melted pillar candles were on the shelves swimming in cascading dried wax. From the ceiling hung two massive brass black iron chandeliers. I felt like I had just walked into a scene from Interview With A Vampire.
“This is the gig where I get murdered and used as blood sacrifice and no one every hears from me again.” I thought to myself. I checked my phone to make sure I had service in case I needed to call for help. I was confident that I could bludgeon anyone to death with my disco stick if needed for self defense. Genovia told me that this area of the basement had a small staircase which would lead me directly up to the backyard where I would be performing. “I’m going to head back up to the party. I’ll let the bodyguard in when he gets here. Text me if you need anything.” As soon as she was gone I pulled back the thick black curtains to peek out of the window and get an idea of the party happening above me. I was relieved to see a bunch of normal looking teenagers milling around eating pizza and chatting and not a vampire coven. It wasn’t going to be hard to liven that party up.
Though the room was extremely creepy, I was happy to have the basic necessities I needed to get ready including a place to hang my costume, a full length mirror and makeup table. So many clients would promise to have those things and then throw me to the wolves when I showed up. I unpacked and started the long process of getting into Lady Gaga drag when I noticed a closet door nearby that looked like a good spot to hang my garment bag. As I sat back down in front of the make-up mirror, the closet door behind me began to creak loudly as it slowly swung open under the weight of my costume. “Please don’t let a dead body fall out of here” I thought. The open closet revealed a slew of BDSM, bondage gear, a sex swing and kinky role playing costumes. Given the room’s decor I wasn’t that surprised. I quickly shut the door and found another spot to hang my dress. There was totally some kind of vampire sex dungeon shit going on up in there. Sarah had one freaky-ass sister.
Shortly after I had finished getting into costume my fake bodyguard finally arrived. There was a knock on the bedroom door and Genovia stepped in with Alex who, thankfully was as hot in real life as his photos had portrayed. “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!” She shouted as she saw me in my full look for the first time. “Now THAT is a transformation. You look exactly like her oh my god! I’m getting my boyfriend right now to come in here and take some pictures.” She ran off to get her boyfriend. I wondered if this was the part where they were going to tie us up and try to drink our blood.
I introduced myself to Alex who also seemed somewhat star struck. This was one part of being an impersonator that always felt odd to me. Though people knew I wasn’t really Lady Gaga they often acted as nervous around me as they would with an actual celebrity. I can’t even count the times I have seen people’s hands trembling as they asked me for selfies. I immediately gave Alex his payment in an envelope to ease his mind and so I wouldn’t have to deal with it later.
“What is up with this room?” he asked “I know right?” I said. “Hopefully they don’t try to shackle us before we leave.” We had a good laugh and I gave him a quick run down of his fake bodyguard duties. Genovia returned with her boyfriend who looked like a character from American Horror Story. They were both holding glasses of red wine. Or perhaps it was blood. We took a ton of photos and they led me to the edge of the rough cement stairs outside the door. This is where I would make my entrance.
Alex headed up before me to take his spot as the opening bars of Bad Romance blasted from the rental speaker system. It was getting dark outside and the lack of light combined with my dark shades made it hard to see. My seven inch platforms kept sinking into the backyard making it difficult to move around. The rental speakers kept screeching because they hadn’t been set up correctly. Though challenging, the performance went over well and I managed to get all the kids cheering and dancing. That is not an easy feat in a room full of jaded 17-18 year olds. In my years of entertaining at parties I had picked up enough tricks to be able to turn any crowd around if needed. I had seen it all and there wasn’t much you could throw at me that I couldn’t handle.
After my set I mingled and took photos and selfies with all the kids and we chatted about their majors and college plans for the Fall. Their hopeful excitement about the future was refreshing and contagious. I couldn’t help but think back to being their age when I was so excited to move to NYC for college. I had such big dreams of being a Broadway star, but here I was over a decade later, a college dropout pretending to be a pop star for teenagers in a tiny backyard with my heels covered in mud. Though there can be moments of artistry in being a tribute artist I sure wasn’t feeling it at that moment. I couldn’t wait to get paid and go home.
Alex tipped me off that I was nearing the end of my hour, so I thanked Genovia and told her I was heading off. She handed me the rest of my fee, eight one hundred dollar bills, which I tucked into my glove out of sight. I beelined for the unlit cement stairs which would lead me back down into the creepy vampire sex dungeon and into freedom. For some reason the same light that had been on to guide me up was now off. I waived my hand around to see if it was motion activated but no luck. I took off my sunglasses but it was still quite dark. Just when I thought I was safely halfway down I felt my gigantic platform heel get caught in a rough patch of cement and slip out from under me. I grabbed for the railing but it was too late. Both my legs were headed down the stairs with me attached in that weird slow motion thing your brain does when you fall.
My left leg twisted in an unnatural way as my calve smashed onto the rough cement, scrapping chunks of skin off the whole way down. My hip slammed into the stairs and my shoulder twisted and popped as I continued to try and hold myself up with no success. The next thing I knew I was in a pile of white tulle at the bottom of the stairs and in so much blinding pain that I couldn’t see straight. I was certain that my leg my broken. Alex came up behind me and asked if I was ok. I honestly didn’t know at that point. “Help me stand up and I guess we’ll find out.” I said. As I got myself upright I looked down and was relieved to see there was no bone sticking out. Warm blood was starting to run down my leg so I went into the bathroom to assess the damage.
I took a taxi home and spent that night in severe pain with ice packs all over my body. Aside from the bloody fishnet pattern embedded into my leg, I also had a nasty foot long bruise down my calve, a bruised hip and couldn’t move my right arm.
The next morning I dragged myself to a bone and joint urgent care where the intake Dr. asked how I acquired all of these injuries. I explained that I was a Lady Gaga impersonator and had fallen down dark cement stairs at a gig in a backyard. “Wow, i’ve never heard that one before.” he said and started laughing. I had at least ten X-rays and was laying in a bed waiting for results when the Dr. brought in two assistants. “You guys -so Renée is a Lady Gaga impersonator and she got injured from a fall at work. Isn’t that a cool job?” I knew what was coming. The same reaction I had gotten 1,000 times before when someone found out I was an impersonator. I braced myself. I was not in the mood for this. “Whaaat! nooooo way!” they exclaimed. “Ohhh, you DO look like her! Where do you perform? I love Poker Face. Do you sing? Do you wear wigs? Do you dance? Have you met her? What is your favorite song? Did you see her last concert? Do you have a meat dress?”
I tried to politely answer all of the usual questions while acting like I actually enjoyed my job, and like it was the first time I had heard them. From that moment on when anyone asked me what I did for a living I told them I was a receptionist. Thankfully nothing was broken, but I had some pretty severe sprains and muscle injuries that took many months to heal.
Though it wasn’t in the way I expected, I hadn’t make it out of the vampire dungeon without shedding blood after all.