By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Someone whom Kara keeps referring to as her husband is blowing up her cell phone. She's mad at him and says more than once, "He's gotta understand that I won't take him cheating on me." She describes him as a straight guy -- apparently, those are the ones she usually goes for, and they like her. The couple has been together for several years, she says, though they're on hiatus.
Kara drains the last of her Jäger, gathers up her little entourage and moves next door to O Houston, where she's scheduled to perform. The Dallas-style O is totally different from JR.'s. The sleek bar is decorated with monochromatic red artworks. Shirtless bartenders serve drinks with care, and Euro-looking guys dance under blinding, spinning lights.
Kara has a tiny Louis Vuitton purse, a larger shoulder bag and a huge suitcase that a friend carries for her. Inside, she disappears into the back and emerges a few minutes later in a skintight zebra-print dress and a new hairdo (the trick: hairpieces). She looks, in a very-popular-in-the-gay-world word, fabulous. Most women would kill for a waist as tiny as Kara's.
There's not a big crowd out tonight, but the guys who are here give her plenty of love. On the cleared floor, dancing in the smoky darkness, she mouths a sultry song about knowing everyone's secrets, and they seem to believe her. Just about everyone in the joint holds out a bill for her, and she's got a kiss on the cheek for each of them. After a couple of songs, she seems ambivalent about whether to keep performing. A patron yells out a request for "I Will Survive," and that seals things. "Girl, I'm not doing no damn 'I Will Survive,' " she says, and, like the diva she is, Kara walks offstage.
It's Sunday night at the Guava Lamp, a laid-back, slightly more alternative gay bar in Shepherd Square. But instead of the usual party atmosphere, the mood is subdued. People sit in groups, talking in unusually low tones. The bartender explains to everyone who comes in that Kim Dobbs and her husband, Brian, were murdered over the weekend, found bludgeoned in their bed. She was a gospel singer who performed at the club on Wednesdays. Many regulars are shaken up.
Into this atmosphere strolls Todd A. Gresley, who, as it happens, knew Kim pretty well. He's the karaoke MC this evening -- a thankless job. Todd mounts the stage and takes a mike. "Come on, people," he says in a singsong voice. "Let's get up heeere." An unbelievably bad Justin Timberlake rendition follows, complete with Todd eye-rolls in the background. Then Todd sings "The Circle of Life" from The Lion King. Somehow, he manages to strike just the right note, a combination of melancholy and irreverence. "When something bad happens, that doesn't mean you can't get drunk and smoke cigarettes," he says later. After a few songs -- and a few drinks -- people pick up a little.
Catch Todd's act at Guava on a regular Wednesday or Sunday, and the word "sensitive" doesn't come to mind. The short-blond-haired, earringed, strong-jawed, muscular 30-year-old Indiana native is usually pure irreverence. "I was talking to Jesus this morning, and he said it was Patrick's birthday. And I was like, 'Oh, my God, Jesus,' and we smoked a fatty together. Happy birthday, Patrick. Stand up, bitch."
The MC can be pretty catty. As he plainly states to the crowd, "You're all drunk and I can make fun of you and you won't get mad." When a little guy stands to sing an off-key, nasal -- and quite passionate -- version of Britney Spears's "Toxic," Todd sits in the background, making wide eyes and smiling evilly at the crowd. When it's over, he says into the mike, "Sign up again, baby, sign up again. I think everybody's mentally clapping; they just have drinks in their hands." To an obviously straight guy who's wandered in with his girlfriend, he says, "Bless your fucking heart, you remind me of all the assholes I went to high school with. Those were the fucking days." To an older guy: "Oh, I saw you at the Botox party last week."
Often, toward the end of the night, Todd can be found lying on his back, microphone to his lips, talking trash. If he gets inspired, he'll stand up and dirty-dance with whoever's on stage. He also makes sure to heckle everyone coming in and out of the bar. "He's hilarious," says Soleil Manzo, who's been a regular at Guava for years, "and he's had a following forever, and this amazing ability to know everyone. And he's really good at keeping people engaged in the show."
The weird thing about Todd, though, is that for all his talk about fatties and drunkenness, he's kind of a goodie-goodie. "People see me on stage jumping around," he says, "and they don't know that my favorite thing is sleeping in my hammock in the backyard." Todd parties some, but he seems more excited about juicing beets and apples and growing things in his garden. Unlike his stage persona, Todd abhors drugs. And he says he's never had a one-night stand. At the moment, he's single: "I just got horribly dumped. He was one of the most kick-ass guys I've ever met. It was only a month, but it still stings. I miss him."