From Beauty Queen Blowout
One week of dance rehearsal, three days of preliminary interviews, months of preparations, and all because your friends dared you to enter a regional beauty pageant one year ago. Amazingly you are now Miss Vermont, the dark horse contender to become Miss Liberty, the winner of America's most beloved and prestigious beauty pageant. The live television broadcast is tomorrow, when the whole country and every kid you ever went to school with will either be rooting for or against you.
To say things snowballed would be an understatement. You never really paid much attention to this pageant stuff; you may have even denounced it as shallow at one point. Your coworkers back home always said you had a Miss Liberty smile, but it was just a running joke. Then they dared you to enter the Miss Liberty Burlington pageant as a prank, and you only said yes because entering meant you would get a case of the beer of your choice from each of them. Needless to say they were floored when you won, but no one was more shocked than you were by the whopping check that came with winning the regional title.
Now here you are in Reno, Nevada, "The Biggest Little City in the World," smack dab in the middle of pageant headquarters in the famous Aces Casino Towers. As you walk across the world's ugliest carpet toward the hotel elevators, you realize how much your feet are killing you and how painful it is to smile all day long, but there's no way you're giving up now. Surprisingly, you have come to really want to win this thing: Be it a ping-pong game or a beauty pageant, you always want to come out the victor. As expected, so do all the other fifty-one girls in the pageant. Hell, your chances aren't even one in fifty; outside of the official states, you're up against Miss District of Columbia and Miss U.S. Territories. All of these girls have been dreaming about this all their lives. You're definitely the rookie of the pageant circuit, and such achievement so quickly is unheard of. These polished pageant veterans think you lucked into this. And they're right.
"Hold the elevator!" you call out, trotting toward the closing doors. The girls inside -- both Carolinas and Oklahoma -- pretend not to hear you, so the doors close on your face. You only have to wait a minute for the next one to show up, and you're kind of relieved to be alone. You would give your right arm for a deep tissue massage and a stiff martini. It's been one hell of a week.
The judges are a motley crew of old pageant winners who take this way too seriously, a sleazy guy named Réné who doesn't seem serious about anything but the swimsuit competition, one former gymnastics golden girl with a thirteen-year-old body and a thirty-five-year-old face, and a Nobel prize-winner who looks hopelessly lost. The host of the nationally televised pageant is Roddy Topper, a man who's so tanned he probably drinks bronzer for breakfast. America seems to love his talk show, but you can't get past his co-host, Cricket McCall, whose voice has been known to give people seizures. Then there's the pageant director, Fanny Mae Briar, who spends all year grooming "her girls" for this one event, which she feels will instill morality and goodness in America. But her main goal is impressing Daniel Aces, the uber-wealthy sponsor of the pageant. The Miss Liberty pageant takes place in his hotel, his theater, and is paid for with his money, so his name is everywhere. The whole pageant is practically an advertisement for his casino empire.
There's a lot at stake for the Miss Liberty contestants, too. Not only is there a huge cash prize (you can kiss those student loans good-bye), but it also means a year of travel, promotions, and charity work. Oh, and there's the prestige. Once you're Miss Liberty, the title sticks with you for a lifetime.
When you get to your room, your keycard is barely in the scanner when you hear, "Vermont!" It's the badass local girl, Miss Nevada. You don't believe the rumors about her -- that she used to pole-dance, that she won the state title in a card game, that she already turned down an offer from Playboy -- you just like her refreshing how-the-hell'd-I-get-here? attitude. She is flanked by Miss Delaware and Miss District of Columbia. You've noticed that for some reason, the little states tend to stick together.
"We're sick of being cooped up in here and we're getting out!" Miss Nevada says. "I know this great roadhouse bar off the beaten path."
"A bar? Isn't that against the rules?" you ask, realizing this may be the first time you've ever asked that question.
"Technically not," she says. "But it's kind of a tradition."
It's been a long week -- and you do deserve a little fun time. But swilling alcohol (and let's face it, in your condition you'll drink whatever they're pouring) is not the best thing to do if you've got to compete tomorrow. Do you want to have a noticeable beer bloat during the swimsuit competition? On national television?
You're contemplating this as Miss Montana comes prancing down the hall like the show pony she thinks she is. In truth, she has horrible teeth and knows she can't win so she's been gunning for the Miss Congeniality title from the moment she got here.
"Oh, don't you dare steal her away!" squeals Miss Montana. "You're staying right here tonight -- I'm throwing an old-fashioned pajama-jammy-jam down the hall. We snuck some candy bars from the vending machines and Miss Kansas, that little lush, got a bottle of peach schnapps past Fanny Mae! We're just gonna tell funny stories and hang out like old girlfriends!"
Normally, you'd run and hide from Miss Montana, but the pajama party does seem like the smart thing to do. Going out drinking the night before the pageant is kind of a dangerous thing, and you know you'll have the edge over those girls if they wake up with hangovers. Sips of peach schnapps and first-kiss stories might be just the thing you need to decompress. Besides, you really haven't gotten to know Miss Montana's posse yet.
"So Vermont, what'll it be?" says Miss Montana.
If you decide to blow off your beauty sleep and enjoy some local color with Miss Nevada, turn to page 7.
If you can put up with Miss Montana's fake smile for some real girl-bonding, prepare to jammy-jam and turn to page 11.
Copyright © 2003 by Lilla and Nora Zuckerman