How To Win a Talent Show: Drugs and Cleavage
It’s really cute. The gang down at The Village have perfected the art of disaffected distance, the science of nonchalance, the finesse of worldly disdain. The president’s been shot? Don’t be such a geek. The Cave is on fire? So? We’ll party on the beach. The island is sinking? Bummer, man — better check the Zip-Locks.
So I was a bit amused and somewhat bewildered by the discovery that The Village mob gathers on the beach once a year for a massive Talent Night. They approach the event with the cold-blooded determination of a Texas pageant coach, rehearsing songs on the sly, practicing brief one-acts and longer soliloquies, going over skits and poems and guitar riffs and interpretive dance moves, polishing and buffing and shining until each routine gleams like new chrome.
The judges for the event are the three winners from last year’s competition. This round, they were Bo, a skinny guy named Mitch who injects the word “dude” into his speech far more often than is strictly necessary, and a gorgeous red-haired woman who has never so much as returned my smiles. Her name is Celia, although I had to learn that through secondary sources. I have no idea what her voice even sounds like.
The Big Show was scheduled for last night, which is remarkable in that few activities in The Village are ever assigned to specific dates. Usually, they just happen when enough people at the right level of unconsciousness accidentally bump into each other on the beach and remember something really cool to do. But all the Villagettes have known for months that the Talent Show would take place on August 5, which I think is the anniversary of the building of the first Village shack or something, and the excitement has been building for almost half a year.
Winning the competition doesn’t get you much in terms of tangible rewards; there’s usually a tie-dyed T-shirt involved, and you might get a small Eliza-made sculpture or something. But the real rewards come with the power that you wield as one of the judges in the next year’s showdown. Beginning months in advance, the subaltern competition begins as future contestants try to worm, weasel, charm, pout, wheedle, whore, and outright buy their way into the judges’ good graces. Bo hasn’t had to purchase any mind-altering substances with his own money since last January, and Mitch — who isn’t exactly Brad Pitt, it should be said — hasn’t had to sleep alone for the past six weeks. I don’t know what tactics could possibly warm the heart of the Red-Haired Icewoman, but I’m sure everything has been tried. The ploys designed to get the judges to cast aside their integrity, their honor, and their duty seem to just be part of the game, and no one appears to mind that sex, drugs, art, and even the occasional extremes of home cooking and actual laundry-washing are distributed like Girl Scout cookies in the name of Talent Show Judge-Bending.
I showed up on the beach at around 7:00, foolishly thinking that talent shows typically start around then. But while this particular Talent Show is assigned a calendar date each year, the actual moment of the opening kickoff is left to the Fates and the happenstance confluence of people, mood, and momentum. For most of the afternoon, the judges were hauled off to the Pad for repeated last-minute sexual favors that must have exhausted the Kama Sutra long before sundown, but at last the three judges staggered to their thrones on the beach and declared that the Talent Show was officially under way. (OK — Mitch and Bo staggered. The Iron Maiden merely glided across the stones and the sand in that aloof way that snails move when they are confident that the layer of slime beneath their feet will protect them from anything unpleasant.)
The performances were divided into three categories: Music, Drama/Dance, and Other. Last year, Bo won in the Music division with his drumming interpretation of the first few hours of the universe’s existence, while the Snow Queen iced out her competition in dance and Mitch came in atop the leader board in the “Other” category. Rumor has it that he offered a rendition of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” on bagpipes and tambourine, but no one can remember exactly. He performed pretty late into the evening, and I think the judges found his Celtic woofing enormously funny and moved it from “Music” to the “Other” category so they could give him the award.
The thrones were made from driftwood and canvas, and the back of each one rose more than seven feet off the sand. The huge chairs were clogged with artifacts; every inch of their surfaces was covered with seashells, carved wood, hand-woven fabrics, garish paint, and the occasional tuft of potentially human hair. Each of the Seats of Power was decorated specifically for the appropriate judge: vague and disturbing images of horns and cellos on the Music Throne, wisps of twirling and bending nymphs on the Drama/Dance Throne, and a bizarre collection of images — including stars, outstretched palms, and barnyard livestock — on the “Other” Throne.
The judges were seated amidst cheers and bongo rolls, the faint glow of several dozen pot joints adding red staccato to the smooth understatement of the sunset’s grays and mauves. Several young hopefuls rushed forward to ply the judges with last-minute beer, bongs, and cleavage. Mitch seemed moved — even overwhelmed — by all the attention and free gropes, but Bo remained stoic with his “intense-philosopher” look stuck firmly to his face. At least, I think it was his “intense-philosopher” look. It might have been his “that-was-way-too-much-screwing-even-for-me” look. They’re probably very similar.
The master of ceremonies was maybe the oldest guy in The Village, a leathery beachcomber named Stormy. I’m sure his real name is Ralph or Bob or something, but everyone calls him Stormy. Or Storms. The Storm-man. Storm King. Really, almost anything with the word “storm” in it will do. As long as you work that syllable into the paragraph somewhere, he’ll respond with his standard grimace/grin, a single shake of the head like you just stepped in something that even a child would have the sense to avoid, and then a cheerful response and a thundering clap on your shoulder. I’m sure the man has broken collarbones in his time, and maybe even a shoulder blade or two, but he has been such an enduring institution in The Village that everyone loves him no matter how much physical pain he dishes out in the name of playfulness.
Stormy has grey hair, nearly white, cut so close that it bristles on his head like a toothbrush. I don’t know how he keeps it so short, given The Village’s lack of barbers and, perhaps more to the point, electricity, but it bristles anyway. His skin is like a turtle’s, thick and weathered and brown. He wears the same outfit every day: canvas shorts, blue flip-flops that feature a faded image of a surfer on the soles, and a pink T-shirt that advertises The Forge, “Maine’s Most Complete Weight-Lifting Center.” The T-shirt is undoubtedly intended to be drippingly ironic, given that the only lifting Stormy has ever done involved something in his hand that he wanted in his mouth, but he is never seen without it anyway.
Stormy gestured for the crowd to be silent. The Village gentry murmured and giggled and snickered and coughed and whispered, but for the most part they obeyed the orders of the Master of Ceremonies.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of The Most High Village of Keelscuttle Bay, spiritual capital of the Exalted Realm of Grand Seal Island, I hereby bring this, the forty-seventh annual Village Talent Joust, to order,” Stormy bellowed over the rhythmic splashing of the dark surf. The waves tossed shiny discs of early moonlight like miniature beach balls at our concert. Stormy held a giant glass mug aloft. “By the power vested in me by the Unparalleled Stein of the Paralyzing Boilermakers, I proclaim the competition under way!”
He chugged whatever was in the stein, flashed a grin that looked more mischievous than paralyzed, and bowed deeply to the judges.
The post-bribery portion of the contest was about to begin.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — SunTanDude: Too cool, Van! Wish I were there. I’d make a great judge, if you get my drift.
Comment — Edith5545: I’m not at all sure that this sort of activity is healthy or proper. I don’t think we should stand for it!
Comment — WomynFire982: “free gropes”? this is like lord of the flies meets animal house.
Comment — Gemstone: Free gropes might be fun, but they don’t match the intensity you get with real intimacy. That comes only with time.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.