He had a surprise for me. All I knew was that we had to get up early and head to Las Vegas but stop three hours short.
I didn’t ask questions until the houses started to resemble an office recycling bin: crumpled and coffee stained. I asked more questions when the road disappeared and we were driving on sand.
Then we saw it — a sign — THE SIGN. THE GATE.
“Is this a petting zoo? Are there going to be animals?”
“Shhh…I’m trying to figure this place out.”
Two small concrete lions flanked an iron gate entry to who knows what. All I could see was more desert.
We drove through the gate and kept on going until two snarling dogs ran out to tell us that they were the worst. There was a couple of house-ish looking things; we parked next to one.
A bronzed man in a t-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap, came out to say hello.
“Hi. Are you guys open?”
“Are you here for the museum?”
“Oh yeah! Yeah, we’re open! Dixie’s at the supermarket right now. I’m not sure when she’ll be back. You can sit here and wait. She shouldn’t be gone too long.”
He sat us down on a white plastic outdoor table covered in unopened mail. I read “Dixie Evans” at least one hundred times. Fan mail, bills, magazines, newsletters, fan mail, fan mail.
The bronzed man, who we guessed was the groundskeeper, checked in every 10 minutes with a, “She should be back soon.”
Eventually he came back with, “I don’t know how long she’s going to take. You know, I can get you started on the tour. Usually Dixie does it but I’ve seen her do it 100 times. I think I can do it.”
And so it began. And he didn’t crack or slow once.
I still didn’t know where we were but just a few minutes later I learned that I was forming a very special memory.
We were at a museum in the middle of the desert dedicated to the art of burlesque. We were at the home of Dixie Evans, a once upon a time Marilyn Monroe impersonator and burlesque dancer. We were at the current home of Tempest Storm, the old home of Jennie Lee, and the once a year home for burlesque dancers world-wide who attended the annual Miss Exotic World Pageant.
The groundskeeper took us through room after room of musty dusty sequins and beaded paraphernalia. Rotting costumes, dusty feathers, and faded tassels took over our peripheral vision. It was like walking through a series of vintage stores, all connected and dedicated to the same thing; burlesque.
I don’t remember when Dixie joined the tour — I think we were pretty close to the end — but when she did, she insisted we sit down and chat first. We went back to the white plastic table covered in mail and had an interview of sorts.
In a sincere and grandmotherly type way, she wanted to know how we heard about her. How far did we travel to see her? Was I a stripper? Dancer? Model? Were any of our friends famous? How long did we wait for her to get back from the store?
Dixie was shocked to find out that we were just two normal people who made a living with clothes on, a rarity for her visitors it seemed.
As Dixie talked about her longer than planned trip to the market, I concentrated on her breasts. They were steering their way to the floor, slowed down only by having to navigate past her belly and knees, but they were well on their way. I imagined them 50 years earlier and became drunk in fantasy. (Robert and I both have a thing for boobs.)
Bright red nails shuffled the fan mail around as she recounted her recent birthday dinner with Dita Von Teese and the last event she hosted there at the ranch.
Dixie motioned her hands towards a pool surrounded by a party past. Fallen streamers and hand painted signs that read MISS EXOTIC WORLD 2002, evidence that Exotic World was a yearly institution for many, waited to be recycled.
Then, the “official” tour began.
And dammit kids, it was worth the wait.
Take a moment and think about the scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where Gene Wilder transitions from slow old man walking with a stick to a freshly popped up jack in the box.
That’s exactly what happened with Dixie.
Her posture changed, her voice turned into Marilyn Monroe’s, and I’m pretty sure she did some kind of jig.
Dixie took us through every black and white photo covered corridor once again and Marilyn narrated. There was so much history in her house…from the 20’s to the 30’s to the todays and the tomorrows. She ran us through the inner workings of burlesque shows and nightclubs during her time. She filled us with other people’s bourbon and boob memories.
I don’t remember how that day ended unfortunately.
Maybe Dixie wished us a safe drive back to Los Angeles, asking that we stop in Beverly Hills to check on Tempest Storm. (It was that time of life for her when both the nips and hips needed some work.)
Dixie Evans (August 28, 1926 – August 3, 2013)