God, I'm ugly naked. Wincing back from the reflective glass on the back of a dusty closet door, there's this sad patchwork of cartoonish distortion: a ribcage keyboard that plays only sad notes in minor keys, knocking knuckles and ankles and knees tied together by the leathery sag of stubbly skin. There's an odd marionette quality to the ligaments and joints designed to make a "stay" into a "go," an audible echo where my calves should be. One glass bulb on my strongest branch and I'd probably keel over like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
"What are you going to wear?" a phone call from Roy shatters my misery mirror moment.
"Fabulous," I dry-heave a whimsical adjective. "I am going to wear fabulous."
Elsewhere, in far more expensive mirrors on much larger closets, equally troubling visages of personal ambitions muted into aging reality are suffering the same conundrum. Ladies of means and men who are mean are rifling through noisy torrents of fabric in search of just the right layer of embellishment to project their position in Orlando's big booster social circle. They are fighting about stock-market shifts and picking money out of their hair, calling up girlfriends and coughing up face powder. They will achieve the ideal level of apparent effortlessness and fall sparklingly in line with all the other aluminum trees, then come home, smear off their caking lipstick with some Pond's cold cream and fall back into themselves, naked, empty and insecure. A dog will bark. They will ignore it.
But for me, this whole going-through of the semi-formal motions isn't quite so routine. The last time I wore a tie, it was a retail noose. Slipping into a suit now feels like playing Daddy dress-up, an exercise in clothes-too-big, a choppy David Byrne "find yourself." How did I get here?
"I don't think we should valet," I swing my red tie into the car. Roy's red tie follows. "That would make it all too real."
Tonight's Red Chair Affair, an annual kickoff for the "arts" season that involves a $225-a-head VIP pre-party wherein you are to silently bid on miniature red chairs, isn't the oonce-oonce stumble-thon at which I typically rub elbows. It's a valet-parked symphony of surface smiles intended to bypass the sensitive pacemakers of the landed elite. Everybody is supposed to wear red. Blood is red.
"Everything will be fine," Roy smooths my bleeding wrinkles. "Just think about all the people you don't want to see."
Our attempt at an inauspicious entrance is foiled early when we pop up at the wrong will call window at the Bob Carr, thereby setting off a string of walkie-talkie announcements that eventually command what seems to be a police escort. Near the back of the building, some mermaid-geisha-Indian ladies of ethnicity are swirling around giant pieces of fabric in a circular wing-like manner that denotes entry. We're in.
"I wonder if this one's gay," Roy points at a tiny red chair covered in disco balls and the word "gay." "Ooooh, that one's got a weave!"
It goes like this for about a half-hour, save some pleasant exchanges with some pleasant arts people and a rather unpleasant scoff from a perennially unpleasant city commissioner, before anything of real plot merit develops. Sadly, dreampuff Scott Maxwell is not here, despite expectations otherwise. Sniff. But then — THEN! — the whole backstage backdrop splits open and the gods of stuffy evening endeavors crack open their lips to reveal a smile. Or, rather, 67 days of smiles.
"Margot told us we should find you," twinkie New York import Kyle chirps, gal-pal Stacey in tow. "She said you'd be just right for us."
Kyle and Stacey are the fruits of the Convention and Visitors Bureau's social networking campaign, 67 Days of Smiles, so they are Facebooking and Tweeting and blogging and vlogging two months' worth of small-town Orlando bemusement for all the Internet-savvy tourists who will inevitably save us from ourselves. Send!
"Give us three words to describe the arts in Orlando," they throw a camera and a forced smile in my face.
"Vicodin, hairball, annnnnd," I push the camera away, claiming media immunity.
"The arts in Orlando is hopping!" Orange County commissioner and mayoral hopeful Linda Stewart hops into the scenario, sans subject-verb agreement, warning Kyle and Stacey that I have a tendency to be a post-facto bitch. "He's said some mean things about me, but at least they're funny!"
Funnier still is the fact that Kyle and Stacey might not be heterosexual ("We're going to Parliament House!" might) and the CVB might or might not know that.
"Whatever," Kyle's mirror outside his closet clearly doesn't reflect quite as badly as mine does. "Orlando's a big gay town."
I love him.
In the theater proper, the formality mannequins are treated to a veritable a la carte tray of stage people, a mood blender of aesthetic overachievement. There's ballroom cellulite, Indian traditional dancers, lesbian cabaret, musical theater, violins, bellydancing, bad improv comedy and the Orlando Gay Chorus. It's exhausting, but somehow all more real and ultimately more enjoyable than the dress-up party building up to it.
For the final act, the lights go down, the smoke machines go on and a line of nearly naked, very hot men from the Orlando Ballet fling themselves into the air, crashing down into hypersexual fits of breakdancing. Thump, thump, thump go the techno drum beats. Break, break, break goes my heart.
"I could stare at them naked all night," I nudge Roy. And I will never look in the mirror firstname.lastname@example.org