Prior to the Pageant (Gonzo Writing Challenge)

Southern California

“Is it a penguin? No, . . . a pelican? No . . . you know, they have ’em at the zoo. They look like they’re in suits.” “Penguins.” “They don’t have knees.” “What?” “Penguins don’t have knees.” “Birds don’t have knees, do they?” “Sure they do. But penguins don’t.” This is the most interesting conversation surrounding me while I wait for the display of five pieces at this Working Press Night preview of the Pageant of the Masters, which doesn’t formally begin for another month. I am cold and regretting having my hair cut short the day before.

I arrived an hour earlier and toured backstage with my obligatory name tag among a herd of others equally branded. I felt like a blood cell trying to work my way through a clogged artery. Four hundred press in attendance and most seemed interested in blocking my way. In my slow crossing I can see some makeup being administered to a young man simultaneously being blinded by the seemingly constant flash photography. I also notice that along the upper edges of the beige walls are painted Styrofoam heads, sequentially numbered, giving the makeup artists sculpted guides to follow.

Flash. Another photo taken. I work my way past wardrobe, past the few available individuals being interviewed by short, gray haired men with blue-inked ball-point pens and flip-top notepads, to the wall of photographs depicting past glories in the field of “living pictures,” as they put it—essentially cast members painted and outfitted and placed in life-sized art, portraying lovers or baseball players or intricate ornaments. My eye wanders to a vacant corner of the opposite wall where an Emergency Exit Plan is hanging.

So I’ve been sitting in this firm, narrow chair in Laguna’s Irvine Bowl amphitheater for an hour, listing to the slowly gathering others talk about their first times. One lady behind me says hers was back in ’69 and that she’s been coming back for more every year. Another’s was five years ago but this is her first time back. It is only women discussing their first times. I don’t let on that this is mine.

An hour in the growing dark and gathering fog and forty-five minutes behind schedule, the presentation of the pieces finally begins. By this time so many camera operators have coalesced on the platform set up for them before the stage that I am sure those of us behind them are going to see the collapse of more than the Berlin Wall during our lifetimes. The exhibition lasts less than thirty minutes in all, including four minute staging periods between pieces. I wonder about the lady whose first time was back in ’69 and whether it is still as good for her now as it was then. I am too numb from the night’s increasing chill to contribute my own response.

Backstage and up-close the makeup work seemed rough, nearly amateurish, and the outfitting too brash and cartoonish, but on stage, properly lit, the living pictures do become art. At once these scenes are transformed from people made-up in oversized settings to an artist’s bold brush strokes or the distinctive look of cool porcelain. Of the five pieces shown the first and fifth are the best. The first, an eighteenth century “Pastoral Fantasy,” for it portrays the delicacies of miniature porcelain with great detail and color; the fifth, “Perfume Bottle,” for it is a striking, sculpted form set against a black backdrop, and because I have a thing for nude women painted gold, arching their backs.

As I leave I realize two things: The small band in the corner is playing the same song they were when I entered the park two hours prior, and that the fair amount of press that had left before the fifth piece was displayed did so so they could be first in line for the free food. Grilled chicken. Smells good, but it is late and I am numb and have a long drive home.


Posted in response to:
Image from

5 thoughts on “Prior to the Pageant (Gonzo Writing Challenge)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s