— Dr. Frank ‘n Furter, Rocky Horror Picture Show
“Come on in and have a look around.”
I’m in front of a store on the outskirts of Pátzcuaro’s Centro Historico.
“C’mon, just take a look, just look around.” The shopkeeper is typically persistent. I hesitate, not really wanting to enter, and virtually certain that I won’t need any of his wares. “C’mon! Just look around!” Shopkeeper’s a bit more insistent now.
I’m starting to feel very awkward as I’m standing in front of a funeral home that has a wide display of caskets in an open store front. I don’t feel like I can just dash off either, so I ask, “Have you ever seen ‘Morirse en Domingo?’” He and the other shopkeeper, a much older man, just chuckle. “Morirse en Domingo” is a Mexican black comedy about a loser young man from a middle-class family down on its luck who’s charged with bringing his freshly deceased uncle on Sunday to a low-end funeral parlor which promptly loses the body.
“Don’t worry. It’s Friday.”
Uh…I hope I don’t need one of those any time soon,” I say, starting to feel a bit creeped out. What does he think? I’m gonna buy a casket on impulse and take it home with me, just in case?
“What are you looking for?” The shopkeeper is still sitting in a sort of recliner in front of the store. It’s about 9:30 PM, and compared to the darkness of the street, the caskets are garishly lit with cold, fluorescent lighting. As I study the face, I’m perplexed. The shopkeeper is probably about 29 or 30, has a round face, very smooth skin, long, black curly hair tied into a bun in the back, and a pair of aggressive, false eyelashes, but no makeup. The outfit consists of a pair of black Levis, a black turtleneck shirt, and a black thermal vest. I’m trying to decide whether this is a man or woman, and I’m reminded of that old “Saturday Night Live” skit with “Pat,” the person of uncertain gender who causes awkward confusion wherever s/he goes. I’m pretty sure it’s a guy, but not 100%. S/he’s a bit on the chubby side, and bundled up against what passes for chill here. I quickly peek at his chest. There don’t appear to be any breasts, but again, it’s hard to tell under the vest. If he’s a guy, he’s definitely on the rounded side. And his face is very smooth, but a lot of indigenous guys don’t have much beard. But I’m starting to get the fairly strong feeling that this is a guy, a gay guy.
“Well, I was looking for a café called “El Closeth,” I say. “According to what I’ve heard it’s near here.”
“Oh, that place closed. No one came anymore because the owner is a mamón.” (Slang for a pain-in-the-ass/jerk).
“Well, I was here in 2007 with a friend, and we went there when it was in the house of 11 pizzas. And I passed by a place near the Plaza Grande that had a sign over the door, “El Closeth Café,” but it’s closed.” I say.
“That place has been everywhere. Next door, in the Centro, on the libramiento. But it’s nowhere now. So are you gay?”
“Yup,” I answer.
“Are you a top or a bottom?” he asks rather matter-of-factly. There’s not a hint of flirtation, at least as far as I can tell.
I pause for a moment. “Sheesh! I think to myself. I’m just having a casual conversation with this guy, and now this!” I decide that it’s better to just answer the question than get in a huff, so I do.
We start to chat some more. Since it’s now certain he’s gay, I’m hoping he’ll know of some gay venue. But since El Closeth closed, there’s no gay bar or café in Pátzcuaro at all. “It’s very quiet here,” he says. “But there are some good parties. And there are drag shows. I go out in drag sometimes too. There’s a gringo here who has parties and we all used to go in drag, but then he decided he didn’t like drag queens. Do you like drag queens?”
“Well, I suppose it depends on the drag queen. I’m not into them, if that’s what you mean. But some are good people, and some are not. I’m Kim, by the way. What’s your name?”
“Gabby,” he says. I look puzzled. “Well, it’s really Gabriel, but I prefer Gabby.” (Not his real name, and yes, Gabby is the feminized version.) “Well come on in and take a look at the store.”
I relent now that we’re on a first-name basis. I’ve never actually looked at a coffin up close, and I’m simultaneously fascinated and repelled.
“We have all kinds and we can handle all the arrangements,” he says, starting the pitch.
“Well, I’m really hoping I’m not going to need one of those any time soon. Besides, I think I’d rather be cremated.”
“We can handle that too. Cremation is very cheap in Mexico. I can rent you a coffin for the funeral, cremate you, handle all the paperwork for $12,500 pesos. [A smidgen less than $1,000 USD.] We have handled a number of Gringo funerals, and everyone’s been very happy with our service.”
He starts opening coffins and explaining the benefits of each model. “We’ve got coffins from the USA too, if you want a metal one,” he says, tapping his fingernails on the coffin which makes a sound like he was tapping on the hood of a car. “Or you can have a top-of-the-line Mexican coffin,” he says pointing at a model with the Virgin of Guadalupe carved into the top.
We chat some more about funerals, the business, and gay life in Pátzcuaro. It turns out he’s a pretty nice guy. But it’s getting late, and I now know there’s no gay venue of any kind here. So I thank him and head back to the Plaza Grande, disappointed that “El Closeth” is now gone, but figuring I’ve now got it on authority.
And that’s how I came to know a gay transvestite funeral director in Pátzcuaro. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up.