In honor of the spirit of The Rejectionist's public humiliation post, I offer the following. All my spiral bound, purple inked attempts at fiction met their demise during a year of exceptionally fierce spring cleaning on the part of my mother. Apparently, she assumed that if I had not even lived there for ten years that meant that not every single item, decayed corsage, and hello kitty note was essential to the fiber of my being.
In the darker times of a slower place, back in the day, there once was an awkward girl who did something drastic. She tried her hand at living up to social expectations.
Girls who wanted to do a team sport tried out for cheerleading. This girl- the awkward one, or Miss A for short- was not cheerleading material. Not even a little bit. It's good to know your limits.
For the smart but cool anyway crowd, there was Leader's club. Miss A had the GPA but lacked whatever other elusive quality got you selected for Leader's club. She was aware enough to know that it wasn't the sort of thing you could lobby for. Very mysterious, the Leader's club. Thus far in her high school career, Miss A's club exploits were based solely on grades. Math honor society, Spanish honor society, stuff like that.
But Senior Year there was one thing, one major thing, that was judged by people that did not already know everyone at Jefferson Davis High School, where Miss A took the most AP classes in school history but did not attend many dances. It was a big deal coming-of-age ritual for twelfth grade young ladies in the cosmopolitan hub of culture known as Montgomery, Alabama. So big that even the girls from Luverne, which was practically Crenshaw County, turned out for it. Everyone started from the same place. Your GPA, talent, and interview counted just as much as anybody else's. No extra points for cheerleaders or Homecoming Queens. That's right. The ultimate level playing field. A truly egalitarian selection process. The Montgomery County Junior Miss Pageant.
Miss A examined the Herculean task of entering the pageant. She knew she wouldn't win, but placing in something might look good on college applications. Just like the Junior Miss people, the college people liked applicants who were "well rounded."
She took stock of the judging categories and how she might fare in each:
Academic: One area with no cause for concern
Interview: Who doesn't like to talk? And how different can it be from college entrance interviews?
Talent: Hmm. Problematic. Don't sing. Don't dance. Refuse to do a Gone With The Wind monologue. I never should have quit trumpet. What to do, what to do?
All she could do reliably was perform well on standardized tests, which did not translate on stage unless people enjoyed watching someone completely fill circles with a number 2 pencil for 90 seconds. Well, she could also draw. But that wasn't much better than filling in circles for entertaining an audience.
Miss A's speech and drama teacher came up with a genius solution for the talent problem. She suggested drawing to music. In time to the music, an image from the song. So that's what Miss A did. She rocked her way through a giant cartoon frog, timing the strokes to "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog."
It wasn't great, but it sure beat the girl who played the piano in a hot dog costume, finishing with a flourished version of the "Oscar Meyer Weiner" song. Another girl walked on her hands, for Heaven's sake. In a clown costume. Really? Drawing to music…not as good as the girls who could sing but in the grand scheme of things it was not cause for massive embarrassment. And Miss A's primary goal, first and foremost, crucial to her estimation of a successful experience in this brave new world of "normal girl life," was to not humiliate herself.
During pageant prep she faced two major hurdles. One she was used to. One of the coaches plain old did not like her. She couldn't put her finger on it but she suspected he felt that she lowered the standard median of candidates for Montgomery County Junior Miss. He liked the girls who were the local rock stars of their high school lives. This was annoying but how seriously should you take a middle aged MAN who devoted three months of every year to coaching teenaged beauty queen wannabees? The other hurdle, though. Well, the other proved her downfall.
Miss A knew the second she laid eyes on the Poise and Appearance outfit that she wanted no part of that particular portion of the program. It was a hyper-feminine monstrosity of soft white chiffon with sleeves so puffy that they might have rendered the wearer airborne if she flapped her arms fast enough. And it had tiny sparkles on it. Anne Robertson, a much more traditional participant for Junior Miss, had been hand selected by the coaches as the outfit model. Anne couldn't even make it look reasonable and she was a good six inches shorter than Miss A, who was guaranteed to look ridiculous in it. Outside of a four year old on Easter Sunday- a four year old with indulgent parents who let her pick her own dress- nobody could have pulled it off.
Miss A groaned, sucked it up, and resolved to do her best anyway. Her mother bought the material, found a seamstress, and had the dress made. At least it zipped up the side. The zipper went from hip to bust, leaving the dress accessibly wide open until every frill and ruffle was ready to hug the appropriate virginal curve. That disallowed unfair advantage to cheerleaders, who were by their very nature limber and better equipped to handle quick costume changes with zippers in the back.
She learned the stupid Poise and Appearance dance. This was not a bad attitude on her part. It was stupid. Everybody knew it. The song was Michael Jackson's I Just Can't Stop Loving You reformatted to elevator music and the choreography matched. Not even the Miss Congeniality types could find anything good to say so they were the only ones who did not say anything, having been raised better than everybody else. Miss A secretly bet they prayed about it, though.
She practiced enough to be reasonably certain that she would not flub it, confusing or possibly knocking down anyone unfortunate enough to dance near her on stage.
The night of judging rolled around. In the Montgomery County Pageant, Judging takes place the day prior to the public at large show. The audience is the judging panel only, not even family. This stroke of genius on the part of the pageant organizers creates a dress rehearsal that matters and eliminates crowd induced stage fright on the part of any particularly fluttery participant. Pageant people might have lousy taste in clothes and music, but they're good at event coordination.
Miss A did not suffer debilitating stage fright but she did get a little nervous. The Poise and Appearance routine went smoothly, though, with no forgotten steps or unfortunate episodes. Everyone finished in triumphant relief and flowed offstage like so much sparkly ice cream melting under the stage lights.
"What were the judges laughing at?" Ann Summerville asked as soon as they entered the stage wing. She was a veritable sprite, so tiny she looked like she might live in a mushroom. The dress almost worked on her.
"I didn't notice they were laughing," Miss A said. She had been concentrating too hard on NO MISTAKES.
"I don't know. Did somebody mess up?" Hot Dog girl asked.
"Are you kidding? They were laughing at the dresses," Shelley Garrison said. Shelley had an awesome talent. She did a dance routine to the theme from "Mission: Impossible" in a nude colored leotard that somehow looked more cute than sexy and therefore slipped through the approval process. She would make the top 10, for sure. Plus, Shelley was always nice to Miss A. Even though she had been a cheerleader in 10th grade AND was in the Leader's club. "Uh, Laurel? Please tell me you just now unzipped your dress."
Miss A glanced down to her left side, which was completely exposed to the world. Well, damn. No wonder she didn't get too hot on stage. Too bad they didn't award points for matching your underwear to your bra. Because make no mistake about it, everybody would have seen both.
"Whoops," she said. The stunned silence and sympathetic pats assured her she had officially knocked herself out of the running for anything. There are places where showing your goodies on stage is rewarded, but the Montgomery County Junior Miss Pageant is not one of them.
Sure enough, show night they announced the top 10. Miss A was not among them. Shelley wasn't either, surprisingly. Anne Robertson made it. And Crissy, the girl who walked on her hands for her talent. In fact, Crissy went on to win the whole thing, including a $500 scholarship to one of the local colleges. They had a few more consolation scholarships to hand out after the illustrious Junior Miss was crowned but the girls were all tired, a few of them weepy, and pretty much over it. Everybody but Crissy, anyway.
And for the next five minutes, Miss A did not get a chance to sit down. One college offered her a full tuition scholarship. Another stepped up with room, board, AND tuition. A third sweetened the deal with an additional $500 a semester stipend on top of the free ride.
Her suspicion that pageants might be a socially acceptable form of displaying goods for consumption was confirmed. She was the object of an outright bidding war. Being objectified was rather appealing after the previous day's fiasco.
Miss A became a lifetime supporter of pageantry that night even as she vowed never to do it again. She had learned a very valuable lesson:
If you flash the judges at the Junior Miss pageant, you probably won't win. But you get to go to college for free and that is even better.