The Pageant Saga:
Mongoloid Moose Makes Miss America
(Originally published in Mongoloid Moose #8, September 1994)
When this issue of The Mongoloid Moose was in the early planning stages, quite a few ideas were bouncing around the hollow walls of my sun-soaked skull. Nowhere among those ideas was one that involved me typing up the introduction while sitting on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
But here I am.
Let’s rewind to a typical Friday evening in the Nutley Theater projection booth, where I am hard at working fulfilling my role as part-time projectionist, when the Booth Phone rings. The caller is unknown to me, having finagled my name and number from a friend at the New Jersey Film Commission, and he has an unexpected proposition for me. He wants me to come down to Atlantic City and work as a Production Assistant on the 1994 Miss America Pageant. The job pays $350 a week, and I need to arrange my own travel and living arrangements, neither of which will be reimbursed. Also, I would need to start first thing Monday morning, leaving no time to give proper notice to either the Nutley Theater or Post Office, where I currently work full-time. Finally, the job is only five weeks, and there is no guarantee of employment beyond the Miss America production.
It is at this point that a sane, rational individual would politely decline, hang up the phone, and continue splicing reels as if nothing had happened.
The previous sentence was written in Atlantic City.
I have no doubt that upon my return, the Nutley Theater will welcome me back into the part-time projectionist role with open arms. The Post Office, no doubt, will be less forgiving. Forsaking steady employment for such a temporary job might seem like a bad choice, but in the long run I am sure I would have regretted turning down the opportunity. Besides, for someone like me, just starting out in the entertainment world without any experience or connections, a job on a nationally televised event like the Miss America Pageant is not only great experience, but it will sure look good on a resume.
So, this is most likely the beginning of what I would like to think of as my “Career”. Considering that I wasn’t even thinking of a career last week, this one has started up fast enough to give me whiplash and mild vertigo. Here it was, only forty-eight hours after that fateful phone call, and I was already on the road, leaving beautiful downtown Bloomfield in the Bullet-Proof Hyundai, giddy with the anticipation of a month-long excursion in a strange land.
It only took me two hours at an average New Jersey Toll rate of sixteen cents a mile to land myself smack dab in the middle of Trump’s stomping ground. The road into Atlantic City is solidly lined with endless billboards advertising numerous places worth eating, gambling, partying, and relaxing at, resulting in a weird tunnel-vision approach that is mildly disorientating. The disorientation quickly turned to claustrophobia as the combination of large brightly-lit hotels and casinos collided visually with the dark side streets and depressed blocks of dilapidated housing.
What I find truly remarkable is the sudden social contrast. You can easily walk out of one of the many high class and generously expensive casino/hotels, walk two blocks, and easily find yourself stranded in an inhospitable slum. It’s a strange combination, one that you could duplicate if you relocated Newark to the shore and legalized gambling there. It is probably a combination that you are going to find anywhere, with the lowly serfs congregating around the Palace that holds the majority of the wealth. I guess that’s the way society works. A frighteningly strange experience to find yourself plunged into at a moment’s notice.
But things seem a little less overwhelming when dawn finally breaks and shines a spotlight on reality, and the truth is it isn’t that much different than any other city. Like Manhattan squeezed into a little Jersey suburb, with the same built in convenience of only having to walk a half a block to find a dozen different places to dine, shop, or as seems to be the fashion here, sell your gold or jewelry for quick cash.