Sometimes a moment snaps its own picture and just stays there, a shadow of life in a still frame from The Day After, presuming infamy before it even ends — as if it will never end — hanging on to a clock's tick that never comes; the silence, the stillness, the deafening chasms of doubt stripping away expressions and unwinding veins until all that's left is a statue, a sad tribute to a life unfulfilled.
"I hate this hurricane!" Roy is not a meteorologist, and is in my passenger seat. "It's like it's just sitting on my face and spreading its cheeks. I'm suffocating!"
It's been three days of drippy inertia and descending barometric pressure and Roy and I, and just about anybody else presently craving Vitamin D, are all chewing away at our collective last nerve in hopes that Fay will go away. Driving down the pretend-urbanity of Orange Avenue on this dreary Thursday evening, it still feels like it's just beginning. Trees are shaking their messy hair, rain is spinning around in every direction, and the wind is bouncing off ugly buildings and echoing tuba-tones in the worst key ever.
"So, is this all there is to tornadic activity?" I Peggy Lee as my eyes glaze over. "Wait, what exactly are you supposed to do if you're in a car while simultaneously being in a tornado?"
"Hunker down," Roy wistfully stares off into nothing and then repeats himself. "Hunker down."
Well, there's no time for that. Tonight is the first day of the rest of our artistic lives, and falling prey to this seemingly eternal gray will not convert us into the perfect people-pods we so clearly are destined to be. At the end of this road the future awaits, a world of never- ending happiness where you can always see the sun … or Cats. The Dr. P. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center is hosting the grand unveiling of its architectural whimsy for a be-suited cast of public figures, and (gasp!) I've been invited! Oh, dear.
We're swept out of the apparent cyclone and quickly thrust into the eye-wall of DPAC's foreboding circular tower, but not before being intercepted by the wall-eyed face of hometown Phantom of the Opera Davis Gaines, who could probably be hired out for cynical children's parties where surprise is in short supply.
"I've met you before," I curtsy, trying to raise my own eyebrows.
"Of course." His eyebrows don't even move and yet he still wins.
Inside, it's a veritable centrifuge of Orlando mucky-mucks swirling about in varying stages of wine-drenched loose lips and starched-shirt stoicism. At the center of it all, a giant white parachute-like sheet is hanging by its midpoint from the ceiling. The effect, of course, is of a mound of ice cream, or shaving cream, or whipped cream, or whatever else Richard Dreyfuss might be employing these days to break up his family and discover extraterrestrial life. It's hard to look away, really. So hard that Roy accidentally bumps into one of the outer walls, thereby releasing a giant sheath of wax paper blotting out a hanging version of the performing arts center's blueprint.
"Oh, no! Don't do that!" A mustached man appears out of nowhere to repair our foible.
"Guess we can go now," I smirk. "We've just had our own private unveiling. First!"
Unfortunately, the evening's festivities haven't even begun yet. So, like a toxic chemical in need of separating, I toss myself into the milieu of pinky-out arts concerns — and the grumble-grumble fat cats financing them — and get to the business of breaking myself apart. The strategy is basically to stand next to important people and wait for them to make fun of me, because that always works.
Former Sentinel dour-queen Jane Healy dishes something about her ex-husband Jim Clark, almost moving her mouth. City commissioner Robert Stuart attempts to upsell monster-truck rallies ("Those people come in from out of town and need hotels," he endears. "But not nice ones," I don't) before intimating that all might not be rosy in the great venue trifecta bent on bankrupting the region while nose-thumbing the recession. Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty has very small hands, even when clasped in mine.
And then there's ol' Buddy of the Dyers, who, when greeted, snaps, "Are you guys still in business?" I look around the room at the Amway presentation standing before us — the grand public assurance that this thing is really going to happen, the Planet Hollywood sushi trays, the nervous boosters and the open bars — and clip back, "Wait, are you?"
Blond DPAC spokesmodel Kathy Ramsberger takes to the stage, wineglass in hand, and says something like, "I know there's a lot of rain outside, but there's a lot of sunshine in here!" Thud.
She's followed by super-fundraiser and dry comic Jim Pugh, who with all due sincerity steals the night with, "I'm so excited I can barely stand here."
And then it happens. The parachute is lifted to reveal a white foam-board science fair experiment from the 1986 finals. Oohs and ahhs abound as everybody scurries to get to the front and take in what the future looks like. Well, it's a wide, largely flat building with lots of open space — sort of Art Deco crammed down the throat of Frank Lloyd Wright and then raped at Pulse. There's a giant white plate-like ceiling ready to be lifted off by a hurricane. There are tiny white trees and tiny white people scattered about for still-life relief. It's sort of a strip mall after the apocalypse.
"What is this, a center for ants?" my head Zoolanders, before I make an audible threat to throw a glass of red wine across it.
Unfortunately, it isn't and I don't. I just let it sit there, another sad tribute to a life firstname.lastname@example.org