Sunday, March 25, 2007

One Year Ago

365 days ago, I took the Green Line to Park Street station. It’s a popular meeting place, and I was one of a dozen people milling about on the sidewalk, waiting for someone to emerge from the station. The problem was that I hadn’t seen this person since 1990. Okay, that’s not entirely true: I had seen a few low resolution photographs on MySpace.

The woman had once been a little girl on whom I had an enormous childhood crush. She moved into my hometown early in fifth grade, and I was smitten to the day she left, midway through seventh grade. Out of the blue, in February 2006, I received an email from an atypically-spelled woman. “MySpace message from Keryn.” Nah, can’t be the same girl? And do I have a MySpace account?

A few weeks later we decided to meet--on March 25. I suggested Park Street station, but neglected to specify which exit she should take. So, as I milled about the plaza, thinking I had been stood up, she was acting out the same sad scene about two hundred meters down the Common.

Fortunately, she called, I ascertained her position (“Tell me what is across the street. McDonald’s? Okay, I’ll be there in a sec.”), and we met face-to-face for the first time in sixteen years... It wasn't supposed to be a date, but become one somewhere between appetizer and dessert.

What a year it has been since that evening!

On March 5th, following something of a whirlwind year (to say the least), Keryn agreed to hitch her cart to this crazy wagon forever. (Bless her heart!)

--The Luckiest Guy In The World

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Miss America 2007: Part Two

Above: Here we are, about to head inside for the Greatest Show on Earth.
We settle into our balcony seats one row behind the parents of the entrant from South Dakota, whom we already feel we know thanks to the significant air time she garnered during the CMT special. Callee is nominated for Miss Congeniality, which this year was voted on by the general public. I have learned that the Miss Congeniality honor—while undoubtedly a significant one—is pretty much the kiss of death when it comes to winning the contest. In any event, you can’t help but root for the girl with her family sitting in front of you… Seeing them there has one other effect on me—I feel as if I should whisper (or keep to myself) any criticism of the contestants, lest some member of their immediate family hear me and take offense.

The emcee of this year’s show is Mario Lopez, who remains A.C. Slater, his Saved by the Bell character, to me and a host of other Gen Xers. He was also a finalist for Dancing With the Stars last year, through which he introduced himself to an entirely new audience; my grandmother thinks he’s quite the catch.

At the beginning of the show, Lopez makes a point of mentioning that he will not be dancing tonight. Although I’m initially skeptical, it’s a promise he keeps. On the whole, he proves a capable-enough host, though he engages in precisely 0 minutes of casual banter. This was the first live television event I have ever attended that was not a sporting event, and I guess I always expected there was some kind of entertaining filler during commercials. Instead, those periodic breaks were little more than an opportunity to run to the bathroom or grab a drink, same as they’d be at home.

I don’t think I have ever seen a more diverse crowd than at Miss America. I kept looking around and trying to figure out the motivations of different groups…

Some fans’ interest was worn around their torsos in the form of pageant sashes. I think some of the women might have earned their sashes before my birth, some of them manufactured their sashes on their at-home Singers, and still others earned their stripes at what Normal Girl described to me as “mall pageants.” I don’t really know what that means, but I can conjure an image. To be fair, quite a few younger girls wore sashes from their regional pageants, which I think is totally fine.

To understand the pageant horde outside of a.) current, past, and future pageant contestants and their relatives and b.) hubbies and boyfriends of those girls and women, I would need more time near the entrance. The idea of performing such an ethnographic study intrigues me, so if you see a top-heavy guy hastily jotting notes the next time you attend a major pageant, that guy just might be me. For now, let me just say that it’s a diverse crowd…

The flow of the competition is roughly as follows:
  • Introduce all fifty-one women.
  • Immediately pare the group down to ten semi-finalists.
  • Swimsuit (need I say more?)
  • Evening gown.
  • …and then there were five…
  • Talent
  • Down to three…
  • One more interview question
  • Crowning and Bert Parks (on tape)
The range of talents can be pretty broad. Keryn has told me about past competitions where women brought their horses on stage, swallowed swords, etc., but they have fine-tuned the rules to limit much of the digression from singing, dancing, and playing an instrument, which are the predominant talents. This year’s Top 5 comprises 1 pianist, 3 singers, and 1 tap dancer. Too bad, because we were really hoping to see some of the edgier talents, such as the one contestant who had aerial something-or-other listed as hers… But we would have had to attend a preliminary to see the others.

Most of the crowd believes, by the conclusion of talent, that Miss Texas has sown up the title. Her powerful vocals stand out against rather mundane vocal performances from the others, and she seems to have everything going for her.

The final question doesn’t go well for any of them—at least to this viewer. It must be difficult to stand in front of such a crowd and come up with the perfect answer to an odd question, and the go-to strategy seems to be to dodge the question if you’re the least bit unsure. Texas loses some points for returning to her oft-repeated line about the importance of education. If anything, at least she seems genuinely excited about the scholarships…

Minutes later, a former Miss Oklahoma crowns the current Miss Oklahoma, who steps onto the hastily assembled temporary runway for her inaugural walk under the weight of the title.

(Don’t tell anyone, but I have to admit that I had a great time… Shh… Especially don’t tell Keryn, or we’ll be making hotel reservations for next January, too.  )

The spectacle over precisely two hours from its start, Keryn and I join the mass pouring into the Planet Hollywood Casino, which remains halfway converted from the Aladdin, and seek 25-cent slot machines.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Miss America 2007: Part One

Above: That’s right, we’re headed to see Miss America...

I realize this article is so late as to be absurd, but I feel compelled to post it...

When Normal Girl and I first met back in 1988, she was the reigning Miss Maine National Pre-Teen. She continued to compete in pageants in Maine, and in each subsequent state she lived in thereafter. Her video collection includes many editions of the grandmammy of all scholarship competitions: Miss America.

After we won our Vegas vacation on that lucky scratch ticket (thanks again to the South China mini-mart who sold it to us), we had to figure out when to go. Ideally we wanted to escape the dreary New England winter, but undergraduate admissions offices go into crisis mode between December and April, so Keryn’s work schedule presented some challenges. Her bosses informed her that exactly one week--the last week in January--would fit neatly in the lull between Early Action and Regular Admissions, and would therefore permit two days of vacation.

In a great stroke of serendipity, that weekend happened to correspond with the 2007 Miss America, which relocated from Atlantic City to Las Vegas a few years ago.

Keryn couldn’t have been more excited...

I fired off our preferred dates to the “grand prize fulfillment” people (a friendly and helpful bunch in Alpharetta, GA). A week later, “Lisa” left me a voicemail: “Mandalay Bay is booked on your other suggested weekends, so we’re doing everything we can to make it happen for the last weekend in January.” A day later, she confirmed our travel, and Keryn rushed to the Internet where two balcony seats for the Miss American main event were ours for the taking.

Before the trip, Keryn made sure I was well versed in how the pageant works, because it was imperative that we place a casual bet on the proceedings. She built a spreadsheet listing each contestant, her talent, and other salient characteristics, and encouraged me to go through the website, reviewing each profile. And so, under duress from my beautiful girlfriend, I pored over the photographs, career aspirations, and college majors of fifty-one rather pretty women. There are worse ways to spend a Tuesday night.

To continue our preparation, we watched a CMT special, “Pageant School,” which showed the future contestants in the “Super Bowl of Women” (Miss Texas’s words, not mine) doing each other’s makeup, learning to line dance, and racing obstacle courses. (Dead serious on all three activities). Although I felt somewhat-to-very emasculated upon seeing one of the women in a subsequent advertisement and recalling her name, it was good for me to get an inside look at the pageant, and into what Keryn did for those many years. It’s kind of frightening, actually.

What amazes me is that the women manage to be so nice to each other, when they surely pray for the others to screw up… It’s a competition where the combatants are not allowed to outwardly exhibit their competitiveness. That aspect might impress me more than anything. To smile and compliment your enemy takes guts. If, years ago, Mike Tyson had said “I admire my opponent and think he is a wonderful person” in lieu of “I want to eat his children,” wouldn’t it have been ten times more frightening?

Tomorrow… The epic saga continues…