I promptly ordered the three-disc set of This Is Tom Jones, Tom's 1969-70 television show, and studied Tom's moves with the same intensity as I did when I was a pubescent fan. There was only one song that made sense for me to do: his theme, It's Not Unusual.
Although my daughter, now 12, has accompanied me on many previous Human Guinea Pig adventures, I tried to protect her from this one. But I had to explain my Tom Jones imitations in the living room. I told her that I was going to be in a show where women dressed up as men and performed to recorded songs. She made a disgusted face and then looked alarmed.
"Mom, I don't have to go as your son, do I?" she asked. I assured her she didn't have to be a drag prince.
One night, after my daughter went to bed, I decided to pack. I took a wash cloth, rolled it up, and stuck it out the left leg hole of my underpants. In the 20th lecture in A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud writes, "Of little girls we know that they feel themselves heavily handicapped by the absence of a large visible penis and envy the boy's possession of it; from this source primarily springs the wish to be a man. …" I don't want to say the much-maligned Herr Doktor was right, but there was something revelatory about walking around with this cotton appendage. I suddenly felt I wasn't alone in the world. I now had a secret friend nestled by my leg, giving me strength and encouragement.
I asked my husband if I was right about this, and he nodded yes. "No wonder you guys are always checking to make sure it's still there," I said.
It was time for me to shop. Thrift shops did not carry clothing for men my size, and I wanted to look sharp. So I went to Lord & Taylor and cruised the men's department. Even their smallest jackets made me look like I was dressing up as my father. On to the children's department. I picked up a navy pin-stripe suit on sale in the boy's section, along with a blue dress shirt. I then came face to face with my favorite saleswoman, a regal lady in her 70s who knows my daughter and me. "Well, hello!" she said. Seeing I was alone, yet heading to the dressing room with boys' clothes, she looked confused. I silently ran into the fitting room. The size 18 jacket was perfect, but I couldn't get the pants over my hips. I snuck out and found some jeans I could barely button. By the time I was finished, my saleslady, thankfully, was on break.
Next up: undergarments. At a sporting-goods store, I bought a sports bra a size too small that did the job, although wearing it was about as much fun as a mammogram. For safety's sake, I decided to tuck my washcloth into an athletic cup. I had no idea where they were, so I asked a saleswoman for the jock straps. She replied in an Eastern European accent, "What is?"
"Supporter," I tried.
"For foot?" she asked.
"No, for …" and I circled my hands around my crotch. She directed me to the lower level, where I was stunned by the choices of sacs and slings, some with detachable hard cups. Making sure no one was around, I stepped into one and pulled it up to make sure it fit over my hips. It had a secure-looking kangaroo-type pouch. Maybe I could slip my cell phone in it and set it to vibrate.
It was now the weekend before my Wednesday performance, and Herbie came over to the house to give me some coaching. I told my daughter to do something in her room while I rehearsed, then I slicked my hair back, got dressed, and patted on my beard. Before I practiced in the living room, I went to get something in my office, and found my daughter sitting at my computer. She let out a little yelp when she saw me. "Oh Mom, I thought you were a burglar!" she said.