Cut It Out, Martha!- Chocolate Cookie Cutouts- 26 eggs, 22 cups of sugar, 17 sticks of Butter, and 21 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 159 recipes to go!

April 11, 2010

Martha's Chocolate Cookie Cutouts

André's Chocolate Cookie Cutouts

My workplace does a recruitment event for employees, encouraging registration for AIDS Walk Kansas City. It’s a terrific event and the funds raised are allocated to helping individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the Kansas City community with the day-to-day challenges of housing, employment, medication, and general well-being. I knew I wanted to make something for this event. I knew that something would be a cookie. While shopping for cookie-cutters, (a phrase I never thought I’d see myself write) I happened upon a ribbon-shaped one. It was pink and the sales tag indicated that a portion of the sale would go to fighting breast cancer.  This cookie-cutter was going to benefit two causes at once. What a bargain. I couldn’t resist.

Skimming through the pages of Martha’s Cookie Book, I came across the recipe for Chocolate Cookie Cutouts. I thought this dark cookie would frame the ribbon made of red Royal Icing nicely. The process of making cut out cookies is fairly simple, but it does require time- time to refrigerate the cookies repeatedly, time to cut them out, time to bake them, time to make and color icing, time to decorate. If you are planning on baking cutout cookies and decorating them, consider blocking off the entire day. Seriously, it takes some serious time to do these properly.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the people in my life that have been affected by Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). I’m not going to a sad place with this topic, although it certainly would be very easy to do. I think if we continue to speak of AIDS in terms of what it has taken from us, then, in a sense, the virus grows stronger because we feed it our optimism, our joy, our hope, our peace, and our resolve. I am feeding it cookies with a healthy dose of defiance, this year. We’ll see where that leads.

For many in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered community, defiance comes pretty easily. Think about it. You grow up thinking you are the only gay person on the planet. You feel isolated and ashamed. You keep many secrets. All you can think about is growing up and finding others like you. People who accept you and love you for who you are. For many, this transition to adulthood comes with a wicked sense of humor and an “I-Just-Gotta’-Be-Me” attitude. This attitude is rarely kind or sweet. Much like a small dog that has been kicked too many times, many in the gay community are yappy and quick to bite. They are independent, strong, and fiercely protective of their own.

One such person, in my life, was the Governor of Spanish Town. Spanish Town is a small neighborhood next to the capitol building in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I spent many years as a young adult. It is, in fact, the oldest neighborhood in Baton Rouge and during the mid-eighties to mid-nineties boasted the largest gay community in the city. Spanish Town Mardi Gras is a real treat. The entire  city population pours into the tiny community made of old Spanish style bungalows and cobbled alleys, and for just one day, the citizens of Baton Rouge forget they are God-and-Gay-Fearing Christians. They  let their hair down and thrust their hips to the beat of a big bass drum leading the second line. They sing, dance, and drink with men dressed like Baby Jane Hudson and Mildred Pierce without judgement or prejudice.

The pink flamingo is the official symbol of the Spanish Town Mardi Gras and weeks before the parade this symbol appears everywhere across the expansive city. From atop his balcony, lined with dozens of plastic flamingos, for many years was the ruler of it all, the Governor of Spanish Town.  He wasn’t really an elected official, per se. It was more-or-less a self-appointed title. He had lived in Spanish Town most of his adult life and from his balcony,  had the best vantage point to see the parade and, of course,  be seen.  He never failed to put on quite a show. Always in a costume that defied taste and dignity, he’d wave his large feathered fan at the crowd below. Dressed as a nun one year, he blessed the crowd below with colored condoms. Another year, dressed as Eva Peron, he reenacted the famous balcony scene from Evita.

The governor was so incredibly flaming he could very well be seen from space.  He was in his late sixties and possessed a defiance that spoke deeply to how difficult his life must’ve been as a young man. He was loud, obnoxious, painfully exaggerated, drunk, semi-incoherent, and  one of the funniest and bravest people I ever knew.

One Mardi Gras, the Evangelicals linked up with the Baptists and formed a loud protest in the middle of the parade. Women with big hair and sunglasses shouted that everyone was going to hell and they should repent before it was too late. Young men with button-down collars read loudly from the bible until their voices grew raspy and pained. Bald, white men with T-Shirts featuring quotes from the Book of Revelations eyed the crowd from behind a tall wooden cross they had propped up against the Governor’s balcony.

The Governor wasn’t happy. He began to scream at them with a megaphone he just happened to have lying around the house. He began pelting them with beads and shouted vulgarities. The group below had formed a prayer circle to loudly pray for his soul and he untied plastic flamingos from the railings and dropped them like bombs on them. They would call up to him, “Jesus love you!”- and he would reply, “Well he don’t love you, ‘Cause you people are ugly! Now get out of my neighborhood, you bunch of Marys!”

The banter continued for the better part of two hours. Finally, in a fit of exhaustion, the Governor called down, “Yoo-Hoo! I got somethin’ for all you Bible-Thumpin’ Sons of Bitches!” Batting a pair of extra-long false eyelashes and blowing a coy kiss, he lifted up his grass skirt (he was sporting a tropical theme that year) and dangled his genitals through the bars of his balcony. The crowd went wild. Evangelicals screamed. Baptists gasped. The crowd laughed. The drag queens hooted. And the cross went zooming out of the parade route while the Governor spewed threats of urination.

The Governor was a bit of a hero, in my eyes. He was repulsive and intriguing. There was something dangerously provocative about him.

The last time I saw him was well over fifteen years ago. He was buying stamps in the post office. I watched him turn this mundane task into a fierce, full-on performance worthy of the Grand Opera. He arrived in a silk jumpsuit and a feathered boa. A large brimmed hat, accented by a rhinestone broach that supported a large turkey feather, hovered over his arched eyebrows. He met and greeted everyone in line with a limp wave or a fumbled and drunken curtsey. Postage stamps in hand, he went to exit, turned back to grandly acknowledge the applause from the giggling patrons and postal workers, and disappeared.

I don’t know what happened to the Governor since that moment. I can’t imagine he is with us anymore. I do know that he is no longer in Spanish Town, which hasn’t been a gay  community in years. Rents, housing prices, and property taxes have driven out all the former residences and replaced them with young professionals and franchised coffee shops. The Spanish Town Mardi Gras is still a big event. I have no desire to experience it, though- not without the Governor atop his balcony. It wouldn’t seem right.

As years go by, and acceptance and appreciation for the gay community grows, people like the Governor will simply fade away. His antics would be viewed as an embarrassment by today’s gay community. He would be considered a gay Uncle Tom- so nellie, so queeny, so tasteless, so sad.

I disagree with this assessment.

The Governor survived sixty-plus years in the deep South as the most flamboyant gay man I have ever known.  He was not a cookie cutout. He was hand-shaped and unique. He knew what society thought about him and defiantly snapped his fingers in its face. He found dignity by being undignified. That is an amazing skill. It requires courage, resolve, confidence, and in the Governor’s case, a lot of liquor and rhinestones.

But hey, that’s life in public office.


6 Responses to “Cut It Out, Martha!- Chocolate Cookie Cutouts- 26 eggs, 22 cups of sugar, 17 sticks of Butter, and 21 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 159 recipes to go!”

  1. Robert Doris Says:

    André, I would love to see you published nationally (even internationally). This story is extremely well written and incredibly moving. As I said in my last post, you inspire me. Thank you!

    Sending you love and a big hug from Boston. It has been too long since I have seen you. I hope we can remedy that.


  2. Erin Says:

    André — this story was vivid and true and heartfelt. I felt like I knew the Governor through your writing, and could envision your memories of him as clear as day. You are a wonderful writer! Keep ’em coming!! (and your cookies look great!)

  3. Russ Says:

    A very nice, moving tribute. I hope there is video footage of these events somewhere…it should be a documentary!

  4. Carol Says:

    Brilliant and touching, Andre. You’re amazing.

  5. Saye Says:

    I lived in Spanish Town with my girlfriend at the time from the mid-eighties for a handful of years. The “Governor” would drop by the house for a cocktail frequently. I remember one post-ST Spanish Town Mardi Gras going out in the morning and finding him collapsed in a lawn chair in my back yard. I asked him if he was ok and he said “Those people at Capitol Grocery upset me so, I just had to sit down.” Bloody Marys at his place followed. I am sad to think he’s gone.

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