Crossing to the other side to make my mark

In Crinan, the Scotch Presbyterian farming community where I was raised, people displayed a variety of talents – singing, piano playing, humourous readings, bagpipe playing in kilts, poetry recitals and so on – during what we called programs, often in the church basement. A hit at these programs was a recurring series of skits dubbed “The Two Duncs”. One was Dunc Tait who dressed somewhat like a subdued W. C. Fields, but much slimmer and with what I remember as a carrot for a nose. The other was my Uncle Dunc McPherson who was broad of shoulder and big of bicep and wore a dress, makeup, a wig and jewellery. Let the record show that decades before RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, crossdressing was alive among the plough jockeys of the former Aldborough Township.

In high school in the 1960s, lads with names like Jamieson and McCallum and Carroll took to the stage in the auditorium and performed as the Crinan Cuties in skirts or dresses, makeup, wigs and jewellery. The Crinan Cuties didn’t write skits or sing like The Two Duncs. They locked arms around shoulders and waists and kicked in a chorus line to the music of The Stripper. Why The Stripper? Not sure. Nobody was removing any garments. Perhaps it was the beat. Let the record show that decades before RuPaul’s rise to fame, crossdressing got more than a few laughs in what was then called West Elgin District High School.

Forward to the mid-1980s. I was transferred to The Camrose Canadian, located in Camrose in central Alberta, a small city not unlike St. Thomas, but with rodeos and sometimes cowboy hats, boots and big belt buckles on main street on, say, Thursday afternoon.

It was an extremely competitive advertising market. A local family owned and operated a free distribution weekly publication called The Camrose Booster, a shopper not unlike the Elgin County Market in its heyday, but with local soft news and photographs, often 80 pages plus, packed with ads.

To compete, we launched a free distribution classified paper called The Extra, and published a variety of specialty inserts. My personal and professional objectives were to grow the advertising and subscription bases and to fit into the local community while making my mark. Among other things, I joined the foremost service club in the area. I became a Rotarian, just like the founder of The Camrose Booster.

We had been in Camrose a little over a year when my sister-in-law came to visit in October, and we hatched the following idea for the Rotary Halloween party: My sister-in-law, my lovely wife Nancy and I and all dressed in exaggerated versions of the female form and strapped sparkly banners across our torsos, like beauty pageant contestants. I was Miss Canadian, Nancy was Miss Boobster and my sister-in-law was Miss Extra. This all seemed extremely clever at the time, a comical way to make my mark while sticking it to the competition just a little. I didn’t think much about what good merchants, team ropers, the occasional farmer and the owner of the competing paper – Rotarians all – might think about our getups.

When we entered the hall, a wall of noise became a wall of silence. You could have heard a bras drop. It’s the only time I can remember killing a party, singlehandedly, or, more properly, triplehandedly. As the night wore on, the sound resumed to flow around us. Nobody kicked us out, but nobody knew what to do with us. How could they, when they didn’t have the Crinan Cuties and the Two Duncs for context?

One compensation, perhaps? Let the record show that, while we didn’t win “best costume”, decades before RuPaul, we wiggled away with the “most original” crown.