By Michael E. Miller
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Even in the ultra-permissive club-kid world, there were some baseline rules that people followed, such as don't steal champagne bottles from behind the bar, and don't get into fights with customers. But inevitably, things would turn sour. "I'm not a psychiatrist, and I can't diagnose anyone, but she was unstable," Lancaster says.
During one event at Amnesia, the fountain was being bleached. There was a performance happening that involved a mock birth and a naked guy covered in ketchup. Looking for a laugh, Anthony threw him into the fountain. "He was covered in hives," one friend remembers. "Anthony would always end the fun and leave us with complaints and potential lawsuits."
The collective patience eventually wore off.
A flyer about the "Wanda issue" finally circulated to club owners in March 1998 declaring him "the most undesirable element of South Beach" and oddly, a police informant. People were afraid of his drug use, but they also accused him of "snitching, physical assault and intimidation, contributing to the arrest of innocent people, and the closure of nightclubs due to framed drug busts."
"At one point, I saw him in the back of a police car, and he was like a rabid dog," says Blandford, Warsaw's general manager. "An hour later and he was back in the club. I think that's what instigated the rumor that he was undercover — he would get in trouble and nothing would happen."
Indeed, Anthony was more solicitous of friends than himself. Once he talked Esme out of a ketamine-induced terror and into a cab. Infiniti remembers being able to leave money on her nightstand without fear that Anthony would steal it. "He could be quite nasty and quite cantankerous, but the good thing is that once he loved you, he was an extremely loyal and protective friend," Infiniti says.
Despite her name, South Beach Wanda never really could make Miami home. She often either passed out on people's couches or slept at the Salvation Army. "One day she woke up in a shelter and knew she was just done," longtime friend King says. "She never had a residence since she moved out of her parents' house." Wanda went to Houston to cool off and stayed in rehab for a year and a half, he says.
By the end of the '90s, Anthony/Wanda had been forcibly removed from South Beach's clubs, one by one. An influx of GHB, an anesthetic sometimes used as a date rape drug, and ketamine, an animal tranquilizer, coincided with her exile. Some blame the common use of the drugs for the decline of big, gay nightlife on the Beach. "I would see people getting into drugs that would make them completely incoherent, and we'd need security trained on how to bring them back out of the overdose," recalls Warsaw's Blandford. "We had paramedics at the front and the back. You can't run a business if your customers are on those drugs." The Warsaw Ballroom closed in 2002 and became a Jerry's Famous Deli.
"I've seen performers shoot Ping-Pong balls out of their pussies across the room in that place, and now they want to sell corned beef in there," laments a well-known drag queen from that era, Shelley Novak.
As the moneyed class took over the Beach and orgiastic clubs like Warsaw closed, there was no place for freewheeling drag queens such as Wanda, who lived hand to mouth and bump to bump.
So Anthony returned home and made the bold decision to visit his sister Barbara's home while dressed in full drag.
"Barb, there's a lady out there," said a visiting friend after peering through the peephole. "She looks like your sister." When the door swung open, there stood Anthony, the brother who practically shared her face. "And he was gorgeous," Barbara recalls. He told her: "I just wanted to stop by and let you see me like this."
Things wouldn't get any easier for the God-fearing, family-loving drag queen.
Back in the '90s, South Beach drag queens rocked Ronald McDonald makeup and a Picasso presentation. "It was skag drag," explains Lancaster, who had lived in Alabama and Texas before coming to Miami. "It was making fun of females rather than celebrating them."
There were about 40 queens working in Miami Beach during its drag heyday in the late '90s, and being around them made Anthony/Wanda jealous. Throw a few drinks in her, and it was game over. Never wanting to be anything other than an entertainer, she'd be damned if anyone stole her spotlight.
"It was somewhat bohemian at the time and overrun with drag queens," Lancaster remembers of a time when a studio apartment in South Beach cost $450 and people couldn't walk along Collins Avenue without being blinded by the sun's reflection off a neon-colored wig. "It was the good, the bad, and the ugly — and Wanda was definitely ugly."
Although Wanda was well known on the Beach, she orbited the periphery of those who became truly fabulous, always separate from what Shelley Novak calls the "Superfriends of Drag." If the Miami Beach scene was a high school, that ambitious and fabulous group would have been its varsity cheerleading squad.