The season ended. Nets set to ground. Boats on shore, there's nothing left to do 'cept raise garlic. Spice for the winter. Winston told me we should spend our nickels not our dimes, but I said, this is the last chance (just like last year) to live like kings. Who knows? The same story told year after year until decade, but we're not getting younger, and who says this isn't the last stop? I've been told all about trucks that come raging round corners, and I've spent days on the waves -- storms that come on, give you time to prepare like they're taunting you, and sweep boys, no more than nineteen, over the side into the chop. And there's no saving them. So why worry about the cash stashed under the mattress? It's no comfort, a fat account, when the cold is a wall that comes up over your head, drowning. So never mind, I tell Winston. There are ladies who love wallets more than men, and drinks that can keep a body warm long after it's dead. Lets worry about those and maybe tomorrow count the pennies... whenever tomorrow arrives. For now, I just want to feel alive. And act glad for the feeling.
I find myself, at present, in a most precarious situation. However, although the situation is my own, the precariousness stems from other’s misconceptions. That being said, I don’t deny they have grounds for their reasoning, but in order to fully understand the circumstances of last night I must begin years prior.
Some of you who've lived here long enough are undoubtedly familiar with Howard Derleth. His story is almost urban legend though I’ll tell the truth of it. The fiction would be more entertaining, but it would be just that. Fiction.
If we could, for just a moment, go back to a childhood summer of mine I would tell you about my friend H.D. His mother called him Howie, but he preferred H.D., that being what his father used when he occasioned to visit (despite the details of Marvin Derleth's transience not being mine to recount I will, however, say he did not live up to legend, as is often the case.). By the time of this particular summer, H.D. and I had been friends for near six years.
Thinking back, I remember how hard it used to be keeping up with him, he being more adventurous than me. Still, when I could keep pace I did, and it always seemed worthwhile, even when it got us in trouble.
As I was saying: the summertime, towards the end, a few weeks shy of school. The time when days sway in duration -- sometimes one feels as long as a week then a week is gone in a flash; it's either whole or seconds. The shortening days squeeze the foolery in children to overflowing. H.D. and I spent the last few days racing one another and friends along, across, and in the Paladin River. When that got to be a bore, the two of us named all the shapes in the clouds, and climbed any and every tree. We shaved a cat once, that was hard, and we used my father’s telescope to spy on the town. There are some more noteworthy moments, but we swore a secrecy oath. And I still hold it sacred.
Now, anyone who comes to our little corner of the world knows about the Wharton factory. For those of you who don’t I’ll tell, and for those who do I’ll be brief. The Wharton factory was the first industrial operation in the region. Although the plant closed seven years after opening -- a common result when ignorance and wealth venture into production together -- it started the adolescence of our little city. Since its closure it’s been every local child’s most forbidden and common playground.
With three days left before our educational confinement, H.D. and I got crazed in the pursuit of some adventure that would top any school yard tales. To such an end, it would seem Fate guided us to the Wharton factory. I say Fate simply because I cannot recall either of us ever discussing going there; Our feet merely carried us in that direction.
Inside we scurried between the rusted hulks of iron and steel that once sounded with the mighty clamor of industry. I don’t know what they manufactured there, but the equipment is enormous. At least, to an eleven year old it appears so. There are stretches of catwalk everywhere, and we raced around them with no goal in mind. Whenever we found a section of metal, rusty and Swiss cheesed, we would endeavor to kick it in, sometimes meeting with success.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but H.D. grew tired of the place very quickly. When I asked why he said we weren’t doing anything original. If we told anyone about this trip they would say they’d done the same. So we split up in order to find some anything that would be worth telling.
Some people are born with a different kind of sight. They can see all the angles and numbers that make up a triangle, or can find the one woman in a crowd worth a rhyme. H.D. possessed a sight for adventure. I don’t doubt he would have gone on to greater things than this town can offer. Within five minutes he discovered a stretch of catwalk that led to the outside of the building.
This in itself might seem unimpressive, however, a section of the walk had broken off leaving a few feet of air instead of iron to traverse. Whatever broke it must have been a violent thing because it’d left a tangled mess of rusty teeth on either side of the gap. It made me a bit dizzy to stand on the edge, but I tried not to show H.D. any apprehension. I remember him smiling like a fox alone in a hen house. He’d found his ace summer story.
We backed up a considerable distance and ran at full speed, shoulder to shoulder. One moment he's with me, the other, I'm landing on the opposite side of the gap... alone. I thought it an easy jump. He must have tripped at some point near the edge. Perhaps one of those rusty teeth bit his foot. Either way, he fell through the gap. Except for the smack his body made, which echoed through the whole building, H.D. never made a sound on his way down.
You can imagine what he looked like after the fall because I don’t want to think about it.
Eleven years old.
For awhile after, people got more serious about making sure no one went out to the Wharton factory. It’s been ten years since then, but I still meet kids now and again who ask me about H.D. I’ve heard so many different accounts of how and why he fell I wonder sometimes if I even remember it correctly. Though that’s an odd thing to say, since I doubt I’ll ever be able to forget. I used to try, but it started to feel like, like trying to rid myself of the last moment with my best friend. After all, no one’s come close to him in my eyes.
I still go out there, sometimes, to visit the edge. I’ll sit by the catwalk with my legs between its rusty teeth and look down. They say you can see his ghost falling, but I never have. I went out there last night, visiting my friend, when I ran into Clive Petrie and his brother Frank. I’d bet my left eye the two had been drinking, but so had I if you must know.
I knew when they came into the factory; and I knew by the cacophony who it was. You could hear them stomping around the place, hooting and hollering, breaking what windows are left, beating things. I hoped they would mind their own business. Unfortunately, I soon heard them running along the catwalk behind me.
When they got close Clive said, “Hey, you’re the guy who knew that guy, right?”
“Was he all over the floor, or was he just flattened?” Frank asked with a chuckle. A chuckle. (As a side note, I should mention that the Petrie brother’s and I have not gotten along since they caught me last year with their sister Amy. And everyone around here knows that Clive and Frank can get into some foul behavior if they’re drunk, which they often are.)
Instead of answering Frank’s question I got up to leave. They let me push past them, and I felt a bit of relief, thinking the whole thing over. I didn't make it more than five or six feet when Clive said, “What kind of a bitch can’t make a jump like this?”
I took a deep breath but kept on walking.
“He musta been jumping like some kinda goddamn ballerina,” Clive laughed. The catwalk started to vibrate. Looking over my shoulder I could see him jumping up and down, flailing his arms and legs. He jumped and twirled while Frank laughed. I stopped to watch him for a minute. It looked so ridiculous, and so utterly pointless I couldn’t get mad. In fact, I might have laughed myself if they weren’t talking about my best friend. I didn’t get upset until Frank took a few steps back from the edge, said, “Watch this,” and jumped across the gap.
He pranced around on the other side, laughing at the ease of it all. While Clive applauded I started back towards the edge. Frank walked backward a few paces and went for the gap again. He would have made it across safe for sure, but when he reached the other side I pushed him into the opening. It felt like a long time before he hit the ground, screaming and thrashing all the way down. When he hit bottom his stomach burst open like a balloon full of red paint. Clive grabbed me, and we wrestled around for a minute or two. I wish I could say I lost my mind, or whatever would make it seem less intentional. But as soon as I got the upper hand I chewed his neck with those rusty metal teeth. I could still hear him gurgling, gasping when I walked away.
I suppose, your Honor, you might find what I did a bit more than severe. However, who here wouldn’t stand up for a friend who couldn’t stand up for himself?
There is proof the Fiji mermaid is real. And that proof is the fact it gave birth to Michele Bachmann. Her vaguely human visage has allowed her to pass in society without much scrutiny. However, it's only a matter of time before the truth comes out entirely. Yet, one can't help feeling a twinge of Good-For-You. Most politicians refrain from being themselves. It's often considered political suicide to be open about one's honest inclinations. But Michele Bachmann has yet to craft a guise to mask her traits, though there's still time.
In the beginning of any presidential campaign, with primaries in mind, the goal is to appeal to one's base. It's only after securing the party's nomination that one reaches toward the middle. That's when the disguises are thrown on and politicians strain themselves to say sugar coated platitudes which offend the least amount of people possible. But Michele Bachmann has too long a history of bizarre and mindless grumblings for a simple coat of paint to cover. She'll need a real Stan Winston Oscar winner to draw attention from her Self. Although, there are many who believe she's what most American's want which is a definite possibility. After all, not unlike Michele Bachmann, there are many in the States who would like to see a nuclear bomb dropped on Iran.
No politician is immune to gaffes every now and again. Hillary Clinton once said, "We are going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good." Dan Quayle insisted the human race needs to enter the solar system. Illinois' former governor Rod Blagojevich told Esquire magazine, "I'm blacker than Barrack Obama. I shined his shoes." George W. Bush. But they all learn to spin the fuck ups into something tolerable. Blago just kept spewing crazy till it seemed like he had some type of egotistical turrets. When called out for verbal flubs George W. always managed to smile and shrug which made many Americas react like the president was the star of his own sitcom -- Oh George, you loveable nitwit; that's our Bush. Dan Quayle insinuated brain farts happened to everyone from time to time. And Hillary Clinton made sure people feared her bitch-face too much to call her out. But there are things Michele Bachmann will have to confront which may require that Stan Winston body suit.
She fears the G-20 is bringing together the global economy. And this fear is justified since the purpose of the G-20 is to bring together the global economy. She wants to eliminate the minimum wage in order to end unemployment. She also wants a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Now, the last one proves Bachmann knows some statements may rub others the wrong way as she tried to mitigate her opposition to homosexuality by saying, "We need to have a profound compassion for people who are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction in their life and sexual identity disorders." Granted, she later in that same statement went on to claim homosexuality is a part of Satan, but it takes time to learn the ins and outs of political sugar coating. No one gets it right the first time.
The Iowa Straw Poll has put Michele Bachmann in an interesting position. Most political analysts will tell you the poll means nothing. First and foremost, the Ames Straw Poll is non-binding and has no consequence in relation to the presidential primaries. Secondly, its real purpose is to demonstrate whether a prospective candidate is financially capable of running for election. After all, there's no greater proof of one's fiscal clout than being able to bus in supports from all over the state. Hell, in the past politicians used to herd voters in from outside Iowa, although the poll is supposedly closed to people from outside the state. The last aspect of the Straw Poll is a show of one's organizational ability. It takes a certain skill to gather enough supporters who won't be distracted by deep fried anything long enough to cast a vote; and people who are willing to vote more than once need clear instructions on how to manipulate the system. What the Iowa Straw Poll proves is that Michele Bachmann is financially and organizationally capable of running for president. The money is there as is the ability to wrangle a mob that already believes in 99% of what she says. It's reaching out to the rest of the United States that will prove difficult. Sure, since the Poll's inception only two of the five winners have gone on to actually be president, but that's not something to stop the sense of elation Bachmann now owns. Those 4,823 votes in Iowa seem sign enough that the 311,961,000 U.S. citizens are likely to vote for Madame Bachmann... so long as she can put on the right features in the coming months.
Or perhaps she doesn't have to hide what she is from anyone. Her support for the group You Can Run But You Can't Hide makes one wonder exactly what her campaign theme song will be like. It would be nice to hear something other than old sad bastard music (it is tempting at this point to make an obvious reference to Bachman-Turner Overdrive which I won't for the sake of the band), but I think a blistering onslaught of rapcore Christian nu-metal might put some folks off. However, given the fact YCRBYCH is funded by corporate sponsors such as Wal-Mart, Holiday Inn, Super 8 Motel, and Best Western means there's a need to keep them close. Money spins the big wheel in politics; there's no dimmer decision than putting distance between one's self and companies' cash-choices. And it makes no sense to push the group away since most of their core values, which any school can have presented for the low, low price of $2700, echo Bachmann's own rhetoric. For instance, she and YCRBYCH advocate: Creationism in schools, an end to homosexuality, a pro-life stance (which in Bachmann's case means no abortions in cases of rape and/or incest), and other hyper-Christian concepts of immorality. Perhaps a flying wedge instead of a disguise is more up her alley, a weapon from which her values can flay the crowd via an aural attack. After all, most voters claim they want honesty in a candidate, someone who will practice what they preach so to speak. And Michele Bachmann may be just that as she has yet to sugar coat her past, instead taking her current success as a sign she's been right in her views all along. It calls to mind Adlai Stevenson who said, "... in a democracy, people usually get the kind of government they deserve."
Toby smoothed the ground with a hoe. It didn’t need any smoothing, but he preferred moving to standing still, anything to stop noticing the group across the road. They all seemed to glance over at him from time to time as if passing a secret amongst themselves, each looking at him when it arrived. He didn’t know a single person there, though they all understood him well enough. He lit a cigarette, wondered if it would be offensive. The lung cancers, their people always glared at smokers. Judging from the coffin it could have been anyone. Toby took a little comfort in that. Sometimes it’s better not knowing because then he wouldn’t imagine the person in the box. Somehow they always have his face.
Stabbing at the dirt, he hoped Katherine would be moved out before he got home. He wanted to drink when he got back; and he knew she’d just bitch, driving her departure deeper into his side by going on about it as if he hadn’t heard her all month. The reiteration more a last desperate grasp than an reinforcement, as if he might say all the right things suddenly and make some promise he cared to keep.
The crowd across the path started breaking up: his cue to fill in the hole.
He clocked out early, anxious to see what Katherine thought is hers. She’d been kind. Most of the stuff missing belonged to her. He noticed a few kidnapped DVDs he would have to repurchase, but figured, “Fuck it. It’s all going Blu-Ray.” One or two knick-knacks, sentiments she’d either smash or throw out when they rotted bitter, vanished along with her. Those and a few books he never planned to read. Unscrewing a bottle of whiskey, he fished around the fridge for a can of ginger ale. Finding nothing, he cracked open a beer, filled a glass, poured in two shots, and plopped down in front of the couch.
“At least it’s quiet,” he told himself.
The next morning he got called into Darren’s office.
“You wanted to see me,” Toby tried to sound cordial, but the hangover lurking behind his eyes growled.
“Yes, yes.” Darren waved him in, offering a chair. Toby took a seat and lit a smoke. None of the other employees would dare light up in the boss’s office. However, you beat a guy up enough times in high school, and he’ll never really be your boss. Darren started politely, “How are you?”
Toby made a gesture, “Meh. What’s this about?”
“Always to the point. That’s what I like about you, Toby.”
‘Ah shit,’ Toby thought. Somewhere along the ladder, Darren picked up the understanding that saying a person’s name made employees feel personal with the boss. It probably belonged in one of the dozen books Darren thought he hid so well in his desk. Toby could imagine the chapter title, Personal Not Personnel. The only reason for this mock intimacy meant criticism.
Darren went on, “We had some complaints from the, uh.” He shuffled some papers, pretending he didn’t already know, as if the complaint didn't mean anything to him, “The, uh, Williams funeral.”
“Was this yesterday?” Toby asked. Darren furrowed his brow, nodding as he checked a completely different sheet. “What’s the problem?”
“Mrs. Williams said she saw you smoking dope.”
“It was a cigarette.”
Darren folded his hands on the desk, “Your eyes are bloodshot.”
“I was up until six.”
“May I as…”
Toby cut him off, “My girlfriend left me.”
“Oh.” Darren seemed surprised. Though to Toby, the look resembled a kid at Christmas getting a gift he wanted but never expected.
Rising to his feet, Toby said, “We done? Because I‘ve got a lot of holes to dig and then fill.”
As his hand grabbed hold of the doorknob, Darren informed him, “You know… if you need it… you do have a couple sick days left. And they don’t roll over.”
“You telling me to take time off?”
“Paid time,” Darren said, as if it made the matter any better. But Toby figured, today being Thursday, he could take the time off until Tuesday.
“You’re the boss.”
“How the fuck do you get so lucky?” Joey, the bartender, asked.
“Some guys just have it,” Toby said, sweeping the dice back in the cup, “You want to go another round?”
“Nah. Five bucks is my limit.”
“Pussy.” Toby smiled. Joey made a motion like shaking his dick at him.
“Maybe Ottis’ll be along,” Joey said, refilling beers and rocks glasses down the bar.
“He should. It’s pay day.”
“Damn right it is,” Ottis called from the door. Before Toby could turn in his seat, he felt an arm around his neck, hugging him kindly albeit rough. Ottis wasn’t his real name. He earned the nickname in high school. His mother developed the habit of saying, “Oh, tis-tis,” whenever her son got out of hand. Nowadays, it's about all she can say.
“Line ‘em up. Right here.” Ottis slapped the bar, “Me and this muthafucka got words to handle.”
“Indeed,” Toby grinned, sipping his whiskey. One last high class whiskey before he needed to curb the spending. Because he needed the money to buy Katherine… the thought eluded him. He didn’t owe her anything anymore, anniversaries considered. So he drained the glass, ordering a refill of the same on top of Ottis’s shots. They scorched their throats on high octane then exchanged cigarettes -- Ottis always liked to experiment with his brands, and Toby often sampled the selections -- before moving into serious business.
“We coulda used you on that Baker job,” Ottis said.
Slapping his shoulder, Ottis asked, “How you know?”
“That fucking tree. I know my shit. It was going to be a problem the minute they wanted him planted there. Like he needs the shade.”
“Ah, you know. It’s a way for folks to do for themselves.”
They drifted through conversations about sports. It being baseball season, the two could care less, however, they never tired of discussing football from decades past. Sometimes Joey drifted into the equation, often settling disputes about statistics by lighting up his laptop. Ever since Mickey G’s got Wi-Fi, sports debates became more easily settled.
“It’s Peyton’s year, man,” Toby said his seventh rye sending warm ripples up his spine. He felt like a liquid looking for somewhere to flow.
“Fuck you, and your safe bets,” Ottis chimed in, “I’ll be putting money on the Bears.”
“And losing it,” Joey grimaced.
Ottis cast a dismissive wave, “Yeah, yeah. So let’s be real, man. How long’s Katherine been gone?”
Toby frowned. He knew it would come up, but it didn’t taste any less sour. “It’s Friday. So this is day two and a half.”
Toby shrugged, “I’m doing all right.”
Ottis swallowed the last of his beer, “You would know.”
Down the road, another group clustered around a box destined for a hole. Toby kept an excessive distance. He didn’t want to chance upsetting anyone. They didn’t look like people from here. They looked like a smear of colors, black predominant but nothing detailed. Katherine used to say he needed glasses, but he felt he could see just fine. Besides, he had better things to spend his cash on. “Like what?” she used to ask. “Like you,” he would say, grinning. Then they’d kiss, or she’d nuzzle into his neck, or… it didn’t matter anymore. He dug at the dirt. The rainy July left the ground gummy. It didn’t add to the effort of digging, but he hated the clean up afterward. But such things are for later. For now, he saw the crowd breaking up and another hole that needed to be filled. The routine would carry him along.
Since the dawn of human consciousness people have been trying to encapsulate expansive concepts in small, easy to comprehend expressions. Take divinity for instance. Whether you believe in a god or not, religious speculation is a part of human history. And for the most part, early religions acted more like explanations than moral systems. Gods are responsible for the natural order of things and as such are typically envisioned in guises that mirror the world they influence. Consequently gods appear human, as animals, or even as hybrids of the two. In addition, giving gods human characteristics explains the capricious nature of the world. Zeus has a bad day and suddenly lightning is crashing all around. But ultimately these concepts are meant to give shape to something beyond human comprehension. Even as the world changes according to our perception of it -- gods turn to myths as our understanding of the natural world improves -- this tendency to encapsulate the vast in the smallest container possible remains. In fact, to such an extent some analogies have become ingrained in human perception; they contain a vast array of concepts which are so thoroughly implied people recognize them without ever really thinking about what's being expressed.
Chess is a long used analogy. It exists throughout literature and in film as a variety of defining symbols. In one instance the game is utilized to express a character's intelligence, in another it becomes the futile struggle of attempting to outwit death, on occasion it reflects the sick reality of a few men passively deciding the fate of others in war, et cetera, etc. The game is almost made to be a symbol which its history reflects.
Chess didn't start out as the game we know today. It began in sixth century India. Then known as Chaturanga it was played by four players and utilized dice. The exact rules are unknown, but it is clear that the game evolved over time. First it transformed into Shatranj which looks more familiar to modern chess. Over the centuries the game migrated to Europe where in the 1200s it transformed into the game most recognize today. A simple glance at the pieces even confirms this since the board consists of what could be called a typical European style monarchy. At present 600 million people play chess worldwide making it the most popular board game on the planet. As such it's easy to see why Chess is frequently used as an analogy; Not only do we all know about, but in a strange way it's a part of our history.
Little goes further to prove that point than the epic contest between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Those who didn't grow up under the Cold War's grim realities won't readily appreciate the significance of this game. Suffice it to say the US and Soviets fought their battles in competitive arenas, particularly sporting events like the Olympics. During the Cold War games took on global significance. Regardless of their personal interests, Spassky and Fischer were never just fighting for Grandmaster status. They became living symbols of two embittered countries seeking to prove intellectual superiority over one another. But that's just the thing. Regardless of one's understanding of the game its implications are clear. Chess is a game that demonstrates intellectual prowess. If you see two people seated at a board (whether in films, real life, or your imagination vis-à-vis reading) you don't need to know the rules or theories of the game to recognize that the victor is usually the more intelligent. Which makes sense when one considers the full range of thinking ahead as it applies to Chess.
The best players always talk about foreseeing moves, considering the possible movements and playing accordingly. This means considering four hundred potential opening maneuvers. Don't think so? Each player at the start of a match has twenty moves s/he can make. From there the numbers get even larger. Some chess masters have posited the notion, if all potential moves are taken into consideration, there might be as many as 10 to the 45th power. In other words, on an 8X8 grid with just 16 pieces to command, one can possibly perform as many maneuvers as there are stars in our galaxy. And because of this only a few people can ever really reach a masters' understanding of the game. (Granted no one really thinks in advance to the fullest extent while playing, but the game does require the consideration of multiple scenarios across ever expanding tributaries. Consider the game like this: the start is a trunk which grows branches along which one can navigate. However, only one limb leads to a preferable outcome, but it's necessary to know where all the other branches might lead in order to plan a path; You have to know where you might go in order to get where you want to be.)
Oddly enough, despite this epic implication of near infinity, Chess shows the importance of limitation. The more squares the more pieces the more possibilities. But being set within the confines of the existing board Chess shrinks to a comprehensible scenario. One can consider a limited number of outcomes rather than speculating on the whole, which is really the secret to victory. After all, as the game progresses the amount of potential moves diminishes. In a way, the entire purpose of the game is to limit one's opponent to a single choice. Thus making Chess analogous to debate and decision making.
So what does this all mean? That chess encapsulates the whole of human history in its own past and the way it's played -- Chess evolved over time to be a reflection of society as a whole through which one can sample the infinite though only very few ever really comprehend it fully (many times those few -- Akiba Rubinstein, Paul Morphy, Bobby Fischer -- eventually suffering from crippling mental instability). That's one way to look at it. More so one should keep in mind the meaning of the symbols we use on a regular basis. Analogous concepts exist throughout society, especially since everything humans do is in reference to something else. Just look at advertising. No product is ever meant to stand for its use. Fine clothes are an expression of sophistication, class, and wealth. Cars imply a variety of things: material status, dreams of youth, sexual prowess, strength. Drinking the right beer makes you the coolest person in the room. The thing is to keep these matters in mind. What we think, and why we think it because how we perceive our world is in direct relation to how we interact with it.
Paul Rivers flowed
to the sound of drums.
He liked the beat
it gave him
a sense of heart.
He longed to linger
where the music got writ,
but the time for dreams
too often tomorrow.
He spent his hours
to get paid
less than a minute
from time to time,
Of a kind
Bar back for a tavern
that featured live tunes.
Minding bottles and ice
with the background grooved
by percussion, strings,
horns, and singing.
Paul tapped his foot
and spent his luck.
A bass player,
spying the tap,
asked him after hours,
“You ever slap the skins?”
Paul shook his head
and found himself
a seat at the kit.
The drummer gave his okay,
and the band paused to watch.
Sticks in hand,
shirt sweat through,
Paul started awkward.
Smirks on faces --
those who stay
when last call's been proclaimed,
thinking they know
the world better than most.
It seemed another dead dream
was soon to slug
with the rest of
the liquor crew.
But feeling his heart,
One tap at a time,
building rhythm and rhyme.
He closed his eyes and flew
To awake from life
into a dream.
We were lonely, so we decided to get married. At the very least, there would be the idea that someone was waiting for one of us at home. Even the possibility felt comforting.
About three weeks into the experiment I asked her name.
Two days after she asked me for mine.
“Yeah. What did you think it was?”
“I’d hoped for an Evan.” She shrugged. “No sense worrying about it now.”
“I suppose not.”
We took turns cooking breakfast until we realized there would never be a consensus. She preferred fresh baked bagels, while I only ever wanted coffee. Our compromise left us to our own devices. Unfortunately, we didn’t learn many lessons from there.
We tried talking but only found out how little we had in common. Therefore, it seemed prudent, in order to keep our marriage intact, to speak to each other as little as possible. To that end we confined our conversations to minimalist descriptions and vague emotions. Better to leave the expansive concepts to the imagination where they might accidentally foster some appeal, rather than the realities neither of us cared to encounter.
Our bills felt thinner, and our respective paychecks fatter. Sometimes this is the one objective pro of living with a fellow income. Although, that isn’t to say we didn’t argue about money from time to time. It's only to point out our debates revolved around how to spend each other’s spare cash.
She mentioned children. I bought condoms.
I mentioned sex. She bought a vibrator.
Both of us started to get out of shape. After all, we had each other, but no one to impress. We kept trying to talk to one another more often. The only things we learned revolved around how little we cared for each other.
We started feeling lonely, so we decided to get a divorce. At least then we might find someone worthwhile out there. Even the possibility of randomly finding someone sounded better than nothing.
When I first heard about it I couldn't help wondering if it was true. Could it be? A Pork Queen. It didn't take long to research that in fact, as recently as 1993, several states (i.e Iowa, Illinois, Ohio) had Pork Queen competitions. Essentially, what this means is that several young ladies would gather together in the hopes being crowned Queen of Pork. The exact duties of said title are still unclear, other than occasionally presiding over swine related events. You might catch a glimpse of her highness seated in a flower lined throne, her royal eye keeping watch over a State Fair pig show. She'd wave to the Poland China or Hampshire, doing her best not to seem bothered by the hog stench cooked up by the summer sun. But it begs the question: where have these semi-glamorous niches gone?
Ohio doesn't seem to have a Pork Queen anymore and neither does Illinois. Iowa is the only one rigidly holding to the cause. And in a way, I think Iowa is on the right track. I recently ran an eye over a website advertising upcoming pageants in Illinois (http://www.pageantcenter.com/pageant_calendar/illinois_pageants.html) and was personally astonished to find more than thirty upcoming events from now till the end of October. I'd always figured beauty pageants were annual or perhaps even bi- or tri- at the most. Granted, the Sunburst Model Search sounds like trolling, but the fact it recurs so frequently -- it sometimes occurs in more than one location on the same date -- seems to imply a niche it fills; the regularity of its recurrence only makes sense if people routinely attend. And the fact the agency itself has been around for 31 years... but the point is that pageants happen frequently. The reason? It's got to be the money right?
Well the money issue gets tricky. On the competitor side, most beauty queens don't really make enough in prize money to cover the cost of their preparations for a particular pageant. According to them, the purpose of all these gatherings is an extreme form of social networking. Contestants get together not only to win, but to meet other people who might be able to advance their modeling careers in general. Call it an auction where the cattle pays for itself to arrive. The other side of the coin is the income from said competitions. According to the Pageant News Bureau (everyone has their own media outlet these days) beauty competitions rake in nearly $5 billion dollars each year. Let me say that again. Beauty pageants in the U.S. earn approx. $5 billion dollars a year. And the numbers make sense.
First of all entry fees can range from anywhere between twenty-five and five hundred dollars. And that's just to get in. There are other fees which get tacked on depending if a competitor wants to get into specific categories such as "Best Dress" or "Most Photogenic." Each subsequent category entered increases the amount of items a particular competitor can then tack onto her curriculum vitae. In other words, the more categories you compete in the more credentials you may acquire; losing the crown does not mean going home empty handed. Other peripheral costs then need factoring in. The tab for contending in a State Miss (i.e. Miss Illinois) pageant can run as high $100 thousand dollars. One of the costs is the need for coaches to instruct and prepare girls for competition. A typical coach can bill almost $5 thousand dollars a week at a price of $1,000 per day. Keep those numbers in mind then add on the fact that about three thousand pageants occur annually drawing in nearly two hundred and fifty thousand entrants and that five billion starts to make sense.
(The sad reality, however, is that expenditures of this magnitude don't guarantee any kind of success. Jamie Swenson, Miss South Dakota '97 and three time Miss Hawaiian Tropic, once witnessed a dress that cost eight thousand dollars only make it to 6th in "Best Dress." This obviously begs the point that some kind of mass delusion must be occurring through which girls and their parents believe these expenses will somehow be recouped once So&So has won enough titles to make her a paid super-, spokes-, glamour-model, or any plethora of dreams that revolve around being the best looking person on the face of the earth. After all, once the statistics of success are put into view the probability of any of these girls triumphing, let alone to such an extent they become set for life, are so dismally slim that only someone desperate to escape from some particular reality would invest so much in what might be called a waste of time.)
So I say again, we need to bring back more of the niche pageant. The reason being that people are more than willing to spend gross sums of money for a taste of glory. The possibility of acquiring a bit of glitter for an otherwise dim future is more than enough carrot to get people's wallet out and bleeding. Don't think so? There's a reason alcohol consumption goes up during economic declines.
The economy is in a tough situation, and we need to give opportunities to those seeking unskilled labor. And since the real purpose of pageants is primarily to secure credentials and connections to further one's own modeling ambitions, it makes sense to have as many as possible. Thus the niche. It diversifies the field encouraging more competitors who will shell out money hand over fist just for the chance their life might get better. And who is to say it won't? Beauty pageants are one of the strangest forms of escapism in society as a whole -- there isn't a country in the world that doesn't have some form of beauty based competition. Yet, beauty pageants are no less valid than chronic substance abuse, through which a person experiences a distorted view of one's self, reality, and success. The thing is people want "outs" that let them experience more than their day to day has to offer (movies, television, deep fried food, booze, drugs, sex, etc.), and if there's a way to make a profit off it, isn't that the American way? The consequences of endorsing something hazardous are only considerations that will stop those who would never want said product in the first place; there's money to be made off people's hopes and dreams, but it takes an iron will to see past the human element and go for the gold; to paraphrase Igby Slocumb, it's bigger picture Darwinism at work.