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"Most of my work is buffer work," Curtin says, referring to the performers, the paying patrons and the city authorities. "I have to make sure everyone's complying with the law. You have to remember, Dallas is a small town run like a small Baptist church. It's full of small-minded Baptist people waiting for us to screw up."
Since 1998, Curtin has played "den dad" over a one-block stretch of Cedar Springs--or "den mom" during those nights when he's attired as Edna Jean Robinson, his own oily-haired trailer-trash female persona. Five nights a week, starting at about 9:45 p.m. till unspeakable hours of the a.m., Curtin moves through the dressing rooms of the Village Station, Sue Ellen's, Throckmorton Mining Company and J.R.'s Bar & Grill. He has to make sure his boy dancers' buttocks are completely covered: Since none of Caven's operations are zoned as "S.O.B."s (sexually oriented businesses), they can't offer anything that even approximates nudity. And he sees to it that his female impersonators are zipped up, hairsprayed, lipsticked and properly introduced either for special events or for the nightly shows in The Rose Room, the Village Station's drag theater. Interestingly, there are problems common to both the boys and the girls where audiences are concerned.
"I run into patrons expecting too much for their dollar," Curtin says, referring to the tips that are given during midperformance. "They want the dancers to show their business. Or they get mad when the girls don't stop and talk to them long enough during a show. I have to smooth that out, but I also have to make sure that the patrons don't get too much for their money."
As far as the Rose Room's dressing area is concerned, all kinds of images spring to mind: scowling, vain, catty drag queens waiting to sink their red nails into co-stars who stole a move or got a bigger ovation--basically, Paul Verhoeven's camp classic Showgirls with an all-male cast. Curtin acknowledges that this may be true in other venues but testifies without hesitation to the professionalism of his artists.
"Performers come from all across the country, and they're shocked at how friendly and helpful our girls are. They'll let you borrow their jewelry. The Village Station hosts a lot of national title holders--Donna Day, Crystal Summers, Celeste Martinez. If you dedicate your life to something like this, you have to have discipline."
The hour before an 11 p.m. show at the Rose Room is a small tornado of activity. Kelexis Davenport borrows makeup; Cassie Nova is hunting for the can of Spam she uses in her act; Valerie Lohr invariably needs help getting her shoes buckled. Lohr also often requires assistance for the back zipper on her elaborate gowns, and there's only one tool for the job: A pair of needle-nosed pliers is always nearby. "Find the tool!" is a common call on a weekend night in the dressing room.
Once the music is cued, the chattering tables hush, and Curtin makes his introductions. There's only one rule in the Rose Room, and Curtin says it's broken every night--sometimes several times--no matter how often patrons are reminded. Maybe alcohol and hairspray fumes mixed in an unventilated space contribute to delusions of stardom. But invariably, someone near the front will think they're more important than the act--or think that maybe they are the act--and stand or step onto the tiny stage space. If Curtin were to post this rule, it would speak for the girls paid to perform: "Don't stand in front of my spotlight."
Performances happen nightly Wednesday-Sunday at the Village Station, 3911 Cedar Springs. Call 214-526-7171.
Yet Bradshaw insists physical rehabilitation is not the most significant part of his 11-year-old business, one that survives exclusively though donations. "In the long run the educational aspect of our organization is more important than the actual rehab," he says. On the Wing Again's educational programs are geared to spawn awareness of the ornithological residents living throughout the city and include the presentation of seven or eight live wild birds unfit for re-release into the wild for various reasons. Bradshaw says he also wants to educate the public on how to recognize when wild birds need to be brought in for care, and when to leave them alone. One of the most common mistakes people make is capturing a bird that appears to be struggling, only to discover it is a baby trying to learn how to fly.
Not surprisingly, the most common bird injuries in Dallas occur when birds--especially migrating birds--fly into the city's tall buildings. In such events, Bradshaw says he works as quickly as possible to put the injured birds back on their journey. "Sometimes they have to be transported to catch up with their migration," he says.
Perhaps the most unexpected thing to learn about Dallas' bird population is the number of birds of prey that make the skyscrapers their homes. Some, such as screech owls, even thrive in the city's environs. "They tend to live real well right in the city," he explains. "They nest in cavities and trees." In addition to owls, there are sparrow hawks, red tail hawks and great horned owls.
Bradshaw's path to North Texas birdman was unusual. A mechanical engineer by trade who configured equipment to be installed on airplanes (his wife is a librarian), Bradshaw says that he and his wife learned the rehab ropes by working with other wild bird rehabbers and sifting through books and publications. "With my wife being a librarian, we do lots of reading," he says.