Darcelle, aka Walter Cole, adjusting to life off stage
If somebody had to be isolated in a home, it wouldn't be much better than living in an abode put on the National Register of Historic Places.
That's Darcelle's life.
The home of Walter Cole, aka Darcelle the famous drag queen, had been recently put on the register. It was built in 1896, and Cole has lived in it since 1979.
He admitted to missing his other role as Darcelle, but he has a pretty nice home to live in.
"It's been around longer than you and me together," Cole said. "It's beautiful and we've kept it what it was (in the past). It took a little bit of work (for the register listing), but they got it done."
Way back when, Cole walked in the door of the house, saw the staircase in the foyer and fell in love with it. "I said, 'Never mind, I'll buy the house. I don't care about electricity and plumbing, I'll take it,'" Cole said.
His good friend and theater company owner Donald Horn helped him with the registry, as he has helped Cole with a musical and books and more about Darcelle.
The 89-year-old Cole has been taking care of himself, like a lot of older people who would be more susceptible to health concerns related to the coronavirus and COVID-19. Darcelle is the oldest working drag queen in the world, and it's tough not to be doing the shows at Darcelle XV Showplace in Old Town/Chinatown.
Darcelle's last show was March 14; that weekend's shows had good crowds, enough to help pay wages and rent, before government orders forced closure.
"Now, we don't have money coming in except for unemployment (for 20 laid-off employees)," Cole said.
Cole is healthy, he said, and he goes for walks every day with Horn and friend Bambi Ooley and stays away from people. His doctor told him that he didn't need to take a test for coronavirus, because Cole hasn't shown any symptoms — that's good news for the people who love the man who has provided so much entertainment and goodwill in Portland as Darcelle.
He's also been making costumes.
"What's too much to handle is that I don't have a purpose. It drives me crazy, it's why I would never retire," Cole said. "You have to have a purpose. When it was 4 o'clock, it was time to go to work. Now it's 4 o'clock and it's time to watch the news — again.
"But, I have to take care of myself. We (older people) are of highest risk. The crowds we have at Darcelle's, something could have happened."
Horn has been busy posting Darcelle videos on YouTube, while keeping an eye on his friend.
"He's trying to rise above this, and, 'Let's see the future,'" Horn said. "He's older and I worry about him, but he's holding steady. He loves being on stage, but he said, 'This is a part of life.'"
It's an interesting time for somebody like Cole, who has lived through some tumultuous times in his life, while performing on stage for some 50 years. He has a pretty good perspective on things.
Growing up in Linnton neighborhood, he remembers living during World War II, and watching U.S. Navy ships being built in Portland, and his family rationing food and actually eating horse meat.
"But, nobody just shut down" as with now, Cole said.
Cole, an openly gay man, weathered the storm of the HIV/AIDS outbreak in the early 1980s. But, friends and acquaintances died. Still, it isn't like now, because the government has snapped into action to work on coronavirus/COVID-19.
"They did nothing for HIV (then)," he said. "They didn't even mention it. Now there is people living with HIV, but we lost so many people, all young people from the Portland area and other places. A week didn't go by that we didn't get 2-3 calls (about deaths), and I did so many memorials I spoke at.
"It was also worldwide, but it didn't get publicity this gets, this is an everybody disease, the other one was a 'queer' disease. That's not true anymore; a lot of 'straight' people got it. ... This is horrible, too. It's touching our lives now because I can't be open and I can't go to a restaurant, I have to be careful that way."
And, the United States came to a halt in another way on Sept. 11, 2001 and in the days after the terrorist attacks.
"But, unless you lived in New York you didn't feel the repercussions of that," Cole said. "It was horrible, and it changed our way of doing anything out in public and in national parks and such. But, this (pandemic) is happening to Joe Blow right next door."
Having said that, Cole doesn't know anybody who has tested positive for coronavirus, "and hopefully I don't."
Cole vowed to rehire his workers at Darcelle XV Showplace. Meanwhile, it's about maintaining patience and living in his beautiful home.
"I want to have a reason to move around," he said. "I go for a walk, fix something for lunch. Television is dreadful, but every other night we watch a movie and Netflix. Bambi visits, but when she goes home, I do have a kitty to keep me company."
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