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The Pageant Saga: The Mongoloid Moose Makes Miss America

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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[1] 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.[2]

            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.

            Speaking of hocking personal possessions for a fraction of their worth; I was only two days into my Atlantic City excursion before experiencing my first brush with gambling. It was quite accidental; as I was I was only looking for an ATM for some quick cash of a less expensive variety. There weren’t any on the boardwalk proper that I could see, so I wandered into one of the casinos that line the edge of the city.

            The people who design these casinos are freaking geniuses. I’m not exactly a dim bulb, and I like to think of myself as above shameful manipulation. But of course my quest for an ATM led me into the heart of the casino, and as I stood there folding my newly acquired cash, I fulfilled the predictions of the wise men who devise these elaborate floor plans by actually thinking to myself “Well, since I am in a casino…”

            It is not one of my proudest moments.

            And so I began to gradually lose myself in the vast maze of slot machines that seemed to stretch out endlessly in every direction. This is one of their plots, the confusing twists and turns of the casino slot labyrinth. The theory is that if you find yourself lost for long enough, you will feed the slots under the desperate conclusion that if you win a jackpot, the owners will come and show you the way out. Needless to say, this tactic rarely works in your favor. I speak from experience.

            The interior lighting was just dim enough so that the flashing lights from the slot machines appeared as welcoming beacons of hope in the dark haze, another mind game the casinos play on you. The climate control was set to roughly five degrees below reasonably comfortable, just a hair above allowing you to see your own breath rise before you in frosty wisps. Considering the large number of elderly patrons propped up against the limitless slot machines, I’m sure the real reason for the arctic air conditioning is so the Senior Slot Players that ‘cash in their chips’ before they can actually cash in their chips don’t start to rot before they can be found and quietly disposed of through the servant’s entrance.

            Of course, that isn’t the only way the casinos cater to their bread and butter, the jackpot-obsessed geriatric crowd. All slots are equipped with low cushioned stools for the resting of weary arthritic legs, and those who are two tired or feeble to shake hands with the One Armed Bandit can simply press a back-lit “Spin” button and watch their hopes and dreams translated into various combinations of fruit.

            But I would be a hypocrite if I were to mock these metallic beasts without battling one myself, so I picked one at random and fed it a quarter. Too self-conscious to actually allow myself to be seen pulling the lever, I meekly pressed the Spin button and watched attentively. The dials stopped spinning after a few moments of giddy apprehension, but there were no sirens or flashing lights, and buckets of gold coins failed to pour into my eagerly cupped hands.

            Convinced that I merely needed to warm up, I deposited another quarter and this time yanked the lever for luck. Nothing. A third hopeful try yielded the same results. I walked away slowly, disgusted with my sudden descent into the irrational throes of compulsive gambling. I was nearly a dollar in the hole, and with nothing to show for it except a bruised ego. You can only imagine how hard it was to fight the urge to win it all back. Damn you, Trump!

            Of course, I’m up to far more than gambling and writing down here, but there isn’t enough room to fit it all in, so I’m afraid I’ll have to pace myself. There will most definitely be more to write about.

            So here I sit on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, pondering the secure civil servant job I left behind to chase a somewhat goofy dream, looking forward to a month-long job that will leave me surrounded by the fifty most beautiful young women in America.

            Things could be worse.

[1] Like the Bat Phone. Except its far less glamorous, nowhere near a cave, and isn’t directly linked to the Police Commissioner’s office. So, actually, its nothing like the Bat Phone.

[2] This alone is a glowing example as to how young and naïve I truly was at the time.

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