Saturday, March 8, 2014

Progress in America:

(6) The Oscars - Being There

  “Welcome to the Oscars!  Have a wonderful time!”  Says the ‘visitor manager,’ a person so labeled by her (or his, whatever) badge, as you are stepping out of your vehicle onto the red carpet.  She hands you a program.  You stop, and for a moment take in the crowds of cameras and video cams in the many rows in the two stands of paparazzi on the sides of the long red nylon carpet.  You stop and note the line of enormous gold colored statues of Oscar statuettes - like the idols Abraham is said to have destroyed that line the long red carpet.  You stop and try to take in the scene but are immediately told by one of those many visitor managers, “Please move along, there are many people here.”

    So you move down the carpet, toward the second, or third statue, and then slow down to take out your smart phone, and take a picture.  You ignore the pleas of the managers and snap something like this: 

     Of course, you turn, you gaze, you hear the cheers when one or another god-like beauty is being beatified by the crowd.  You allow yourself to walk to the covered tent like awning leading to the stairs that make the entrance to the great temple of Dolby, the Dolby Theater. 

    “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in one hour and forty five minutes,” announces the master visitor manager in an authoritative baritone over the loudspeaker.  You know you misunderstood, for why would one take one’s seat if there is so much time before the show begins.  A lower level visitor manager urges you on and into the bowels of the theater.  A casual passerby begs that you take a photo of her next to the last visible giant Golden statue of God Oscar.  You do so on her phone.   Now numerous visitor managers urge together, “Please move along, there are many people here.”

    The beautiful, the nominated are culled from the herd:  Demi-gods to the left, gawkers up the stairs.  The view from the top of the stairs is sufficiently grand so you hardly miss your swiftly passed mingle with the anointed.  To prove it, many take a picture something like this:

    Free champagne, wine, cocktails, sodas.  “Would you like a (tiny) spinach quiche?” asks a smiling waiter.  The crowd at the bar is gay, pressing, eager.  You wait in line.  You are at the Oscars. You take a champagne.  “Would you like a shrimp cocktail?” asks a smiling waitress.  So much to celebrate.  True, neither goddesses nor gods at this level.  But still women so beautifully filling their once in a lifetime gowns.  Heels to lift them half way to heaven.  Slim, young.  Men in their Tuxes.  Elegant.  Bow ties.  Black shoes. 

    “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in one hour and thirty minutes,” announces the master visitor manager in his still authoritative baritone over the loudspeaker.  Or is it a computer you now wonder?  After all you know you didn’t misunderstand.  Why would one take one’s seat when there is so much time before the show begins. 

    You look at your ticket, 3rd mezzanine.  What level are you on?  You look for, find and ask a visitor manager.  Tier 1: above the back of the Orchestra.  Thank you.  And the 3rd mezzanine?  Up stairs she politely but sternly indicates.  Perhaps the free booze wasn’t meant for you.  Perhaps those canapes were for higher ranking gawkers.  You hesitate, find the stairs, and take your champagne up a level.  As you ascend you look at the great dome hovering over the winding stairs that you imagine end at the third mezzanine.  It looks like this:

Now, on the next level you find the crowd less ‘beautiful’ perhaps.  Would you say a bit plumper, older, ordinary?  Do you fit in?  No.  Not your ‘home crowd’ but still, worth visiting.  You are happy to hear a waiter ask “Would you like a (tiny) humus in crust?” and to see a bar with the same free drinks.  The crowd is thinner, but equally hovering around the bar.  Some are touristically taking pictures.  You wander, take in the big pictures on the wall - there’s Marilyn, Bogart, Grace Kelly, Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Pacino, Streep, Hoffman.

    “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in one hour and fifteen minutes,” announces the master visitor manager in his precisionally engineered authoritative baritone over the loudspeaker.  It a computer.  After all you know they wouldn’t hire someone to make these announcements so long before the show begins.  You get another drink - a Chardonnay for variety.  After all you are attending, not winning, so what’s to celebrate?

    You reexamine your ticket, 3rd mezzanine, Row F.  What level are you on?  Oh yes first mezzanine.  And there are the stairs continuing to wind up toward the dome.  No need to look for the visitor manager.  Up the stairs then.  Will there be more free booze at the second mezzanine. No matter you have your glass of wine.  Perhaps those canapes won’t be there either. You hesitate, but are not pulled by another free mouthful and finding the stairs, take your glass up another level.  As you ascend you again look at the great dome hovering over the winding stairs that now seem to end at the third mezzanine. 

    Second mezzanine.  You immediately notice that the crowd is smaller.  So is the bar.  Not many waiters, but here comes one: “Would you enjoy a fruit cocktail on a skewer?”   Hunger is abated even at this level.  Many things look a bit worse for wear, although not the gowns, and certainly not the shoes.  Rather at this level it looks as if the gowns might more easily have broken a few of the budgets.  The faces have fewer face lifts.  The men seem to be dressed, without body tailored tuxes.  They are as you, in rentals.  You ask for a Merlot.  You take a tiny pizza when offered.  You look at posters of Oscars past.  The carpet, you notice is no longer red.  Funny, when did it change?

    Now you are truly curious about your level.  Your station.  Will you ‘fit in.’  Will there again be a bar?  Free snacks?  “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in one hour and fifteen minutes,” announces the computerized master, precisionally engineered, authoritative baritone over the loudspeaker.  You go up the last rounded flight of stairs toward the top of the dome - what you know must be the ultimate third mezzanine. 

    But when you arrive you discover you are confused.  The sign indicates this is another level to the previous second mezzanine.  The stairs ended at the dome.  But you have not reached your own bleacher seat quite yet.  You ask a waitress.  She directs you to a visitor manager.  They both look at your ticket. 3rd mezzanine, Row F, seat 21.  He shakes his head.  “Jack,” he asks his superior visitor manager, “where would the 3rd mezzanine be?”  Jack points to a door. 

    No grand stairs.  Probably no bar, no eats.  Maybe no visitor managers at all.  Just ushers.  This isn’t your level.  So go back to the bar.  Get a water.  You may want it.  Go to the men’s room.  Perhaps there won’t be one where you sit.  Walk around, take it in.  “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in one hour,” says the announcer.  Why did you go up so quickly?  Are you just a sheep?  Defeated you ascend through the door to climb the last stairs, to the last balcony. 

    Upon arrival at your destination level you are asked by a sad Asian man in broken English, “Where you get you book?”  You explain that it was handed to you when you stepped out of the limousine and his sad face causes you to look around.  There, in a corner, are a few extra copies of the “Oscars, 2014 Program.”  He is happy now as if his day is fulfilled.  You take in the small bar serving the same drinks as downstairs to a scattering of people, the waitress carrying a tray of small quiches to and fro.  You see the thick ankles and mottled skin of the elderly women wearing spiky heels so similar to those you saw on floors below. 

    You walk to the window to gaze at a run down urban ally filled with dumpsters, trash cans and a broken ladder.  Turning, you note that the talk is livelier on this level.  The faces are more animated.  People are more excited.  You are at one with them.  These are your people.  For plebs like us, this is a once in a lifetime event.  We may not be the beautiful people of the lower levels.  We may be the over weight members of the future audience to the show.  But in our excitement for our peak in the temple, our gawkish look of the Gods of Oscar, we put thousands on our credit cards to fly here, to stay here, and to dress for this occasion. If  our bodies overflow our bodices, our gowns, our tuxes so be it.  We are America.  We are at the Oscars!

    “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in 30 minutes,” says the computer.  Perhaps it is time.  You take out your ticket and read it carefully, “3rd mezzanine, Row F, seat 21, $100.”  There to the far left is the door for 3rd mezzanine boxes and rows A-E.  You look to the right.  Another similarly marked door.  To the right of that are some stairs.  Above the stairs is a sign: 3rd mezzanine, Rows F-L.  You enter, climb the stairs, show your ticket, walk in the hall.  It is empty and looks like this:

    Not wanting to be the first to take your seat, you step back out.  Ahh, there is the rest of the party from Limo 0414!  Carlos, the cinematographer from The Act of Killing in an extraordinarily handsome black shirt.  And the producer’s sister, from Denmark.  And my ex-wife, Carol.  We chat, reenter the hall; we take our seats, and hear, once again, “Please take your seats.  The Oscars will begin in 15 minutes.” It is the magisterial disembodied baritone of the computer again.  You look down at the shiny stage.  They are sweeping it.  They are arranging it.  Someone is taking the microphone.  A man.  He is introducing another man.  Man Two takes the microphone.  “Please, calm down.  Calm down everyone.  Please be quiet.  The show will be live in just a few minutes.  Please, Please.  Calm Down.  Everyone please be quiet.  Please.  Take your seats.  Please.”  This is repeated many times.  Then “The show will be live in just 30 seconds, 29, 28 ... 2, 1 loud applause please!”

    I am at the Oscars.  Inside the temple.  The Gods are about to be anointed! 

    And me?  How do I feel?  I am just overwhelmed.  Somewhere, down there beyond my eye sight is the kid who brought me here.  A kid once needing diapers, bottles, rushes to the pediatrician, all the things kids need.  And like kids do, he did this amazing metamorphosis.  But that is a whole other story.

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