ATLANTIC CITY - A byproduct of my many years in the newspaper racket is that I have occasionally found myself in unexpected situations.

There was the time I was publicly - and sarcastically - scolded by Sir Paul McCartney for speaking while he was answering a question at a Veterans Stadium press conference. And the time I nearly crippled actress Kathleen Turner with an errant chair leg.

But never did I imagine that I would one day sashay around the stage of Boardwalk Hall dressed as a woman.

Cross-dressing has never been on my to-do list - although to quote comedian Jerry Seinfeld, not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that being a transvestite, like being a shark hunter or ice-road trucker, is something to which I never aspired. But then came an offer I couldn't refuse from the Miss'd America Pageant, the drag queen beauty contest that takes place Sunday night at Boardwalk Hall.

For the uninitiated, the Miss'd America Pageant was staged for years on the evening after the Miss America Pageant. One of the major events for Atlantic City's gay community, the extravaganza was discontinued after Miss America left her ancestral home for Las Vegas five years ago.

Now it's been revived.

To publicize the open-to-the-public gender-benderama, event organizers were looking for a male media type with the kind of unadulterated shamelessness that would allow him to dress like a girl for the entire world (thank you, Internet) to see.

Asking me if I wanted to do it was like asking a politician if he wants a campaign donation. Which is how I found myself in a Boardwalk Hall dressing room last Thursday afternoon being feminized by Millie Tate, owner of Millie's Jewelry in Ventnor City, and, apparently, a favorite among Shore transvestites.

As she started the 90-minute or so process by shaving my chest (so my gown would lie smooth) Tate - whose husband, "Louise," has been a public cross-dresser for years - noted that male transvestites are typically straight, not gay.

Among the dozens of men she's worked with, there have been "judges, lawyers, boxers and hockey players," all of whom were heterosexual, she said.

She also pointed out that such famous macho men as movie icon John Wayne and FBI legend J. Edgar Hoover are believed to have been, if you will, TV stars.

Not that any of this mattered to me. All I knew was that by dressing as a woman I could make people laugh. To me, that's the greatest thing any human being can do for another.

As Tate pruned my chest hairs, it was decided that I needed a drag name. Given my profession, a takeoff on a female journalist seemed in order - something along the lines of the already-taken "Diane Voyeur." I decided that "Nancy Graceless," a nod to HLN sob sister Nancy Grace, was perfect.

Once I was plucked chicken-clean, my transformation began in earnest. For the next 45 minutes or so, my face became a canvas upon which Tate painted her, um, masterpiece.

As she wielded her powders and paints, she explained what she was doing and why. For instance, she didn't use blue eye shadow because my eyes were too dark; other hues, including green and lavender, would be much more attractive, she said. (Had to trust her on that. With my back to the mirror, I couldn't see the step-by-step process.)

Sitting through the ordeal of eyeliner and mascara application left no doubt in me that the cosmos got it right when I was born a non-cross-dressing male. I would never have the patience, not to mention the steady hand, to do this. The false eyelashes felt like big insects flitting around my face.

Once the makeup was applied, it was time to choose a wig. My natural inclination was brown - my color when I actually had hair. But the consensus among the audience (various pageant, Boardwalk Hall and public-relations types) was that brown wasn't becoming. Much to my surprise, a short blond mane turned out to be quite flattering.

Finally, I was allowed the big reveal. I gazed in the mirror and, between belly laughs, realized I pretty much looked like one of my aunts when they were my age. Oh, well, there's no getting away from genetics. But I loved how Tate's cosmetic magic eliminated my excess chins. And some of the folks watching commented on how pretty my eyes looked. (I bet they say that to all the girls!)

But we weren't done.

Tate led me to the adjoining bathroom, where, with her help, I put on a pair of navy-blue silk panties, then hula'd my way into light-gray pantyhose and a black one-piece body briefer that gave me a more feminine shape.

For the coup de grace, Tate wedged a pair of breast gel inserts into the hollowed-out cones of the briefer.

I guess it needs to be said here that wearing feminine undergarments was pretty much a nonstarter for me. I didn't mind them, but neither was I excited, psychologically or otherwise.

I then put on a sparkly, black strapless gown with a matching jacket (a size 6 - eat your hearts out, ladies!). The final touch was a pair of pumps with 3 1/2-inch heels.

I am most proud to say that I rocked those shoes. There was no wobbling for this glamour gal. I strode around as if I'd been wearing them forever.

To tell the truth, I was surprised that, thanks to Tate's artistry, I didn't look as comically horrendous as I had expected. Did I make a particularly attractive woman? I don't think so. But neither did I look cartoonish or, worse, frightening.

Still, I knew I'd accomplished my goal when Valarie McGonigal - Boardwalk Hall's marketing director, whom I've known for many years - walked into the dressing room. When she saw me, she fell down laughing.

As we walked onto the Boardwalk Hall stage for more photos, the urge to channel my inner Barbra (Streisand) and Judy (Garland) took hold. I threw my arms out to the side and spun around as if I'd just finished a particularly thrilling version of "People" or "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

I felt simply divine.

I'm sure there will be plenty of teasing and insults from friends and strangers (thanks again, Internet). But I say bring it on!

In the film "A Bronx Tale," Robert De Niro plays an honest bus driver trying to keep his son from falling under the spell of a Mafia don. One scene has De Niro telling the kid that gangsters aren't tough guys, that the working man who runs the rat race every day to provide for his family is the real tough guy.

Well, for anyone (especially male) who has a problem with my cross-dressing experiment, I say this: The tough guy is the guy with the guts to dress in women's clothes for the whole world to see.

And if you have a problem with that, I challenge you to a footrace - in 3 1/2-inch heels, of course.

Then we'll see who the real man is!