Humiliation: A Classy Suit, Metallic Underwear & Puppies (A True Story)
It was a late Friday evening in mid-summer during my 26th year - my friend Jack and I at our neighborhood pub on the outskirts of Las Vegas – me, having had at least three beers too many and Jack with his ever-classy, never more than half-filled, glass of cognac. Jack would swirl his brandy with an air of an aristocrat, while I lined up American beer bottles in front of me on the bar, as if the bottles were trophies. That night, while visiting the men’s room one final time before departing, I noticed a flier on the wall, above the urinal I was using, advertising the Mr. Stud Las Vegas contest to be held the following Friday. An event, whose proceeds, would be given to a local charity.
“Jack”, I slurred, after returning to the bar, “I want to enter the Mr. Stud Las Vegas contest”. Jack swirled his almost empty glass of cognac and looked at me as he always did when I said something stupid or unexpected. He looked intrigued, like Sherlock Holmes during these moments, but without the magnifying glass and the pipe. After too long a pause, “Sure, why not?” Jack said before putting his fancy glass on the bar. Moments later we were stumbling down the sidewalk to our apartments, Jack minutes from passing out and I drunkenly excited about the contest. Seven days later – I would learn the true meaning of “humiliation” – to this day, it’s a memory that elicits both a smile and me shaking my head, wondering what the hell I was thinking.
It was the following Sunday, early in the afternoon, and I was hanging out at Jack’s. I, as if it was an after-thought, casually brought up the contest in conversation. Jack starred at me with that serious expression he so often displayed and said, “If you’re going to do it, you need to do it right”, in that sophisticated tone of his and with hand mannerisms that often betrayed him as gay. “Will you help me get ready?” I asked with the lop-sided puppy-dog grin Jack expected when I was requesting a favor. I was already 10 steps ahead of him. “I need a suit, I need to pick out underwear, I need to learn how to dance, and I need to prepare a speech.” “You’re hopeless, but I love you” Jack said, while making himself comfortable in his favorite chair. “Okay, let’s begin”.
Jack’s suit was nicer than mine and he was kind to let me borrow it for the event. I tried it on – it didn’t fit me perfectly – but I looked kind of up-town in it, and it was classically classy. Jack, happy with how the suit almost fit me remarked, “Now you need boxers”. “I don’t own boxers”, I complained. So, within the hour Jack and I were at the nearby mall in Victoria’s Secret (his idea), in the men’s department, looking at overpriced and flashy underwear. “Look, Jack – they’re metallic blue” I sneered, as I held them up so Jack could see. “Get them, they’re perfect”, Jack said, “You’re going to be on stage under a spotlight. Get the ugly-ass metallic underwear and let’s go”. Happy to be leaving the store, I bought the shiny boxers and left holding a Victoria’s Secret bag - me, a straight-legged jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. “Look at you all fancy”, Jack jeered. I handed him the bag with exaggerated disgust, and he, with a smile a bit too large, carried it to the car.
As a mid-late teen, I was taught how to classically dance. Learning to dance had never been a high priority for me, but I was a decent dancer. I easily embraced the flow of modern dance, could Charleston, could waltz, and was more adept at movement than I would, at the time, comfortably admit to others. But – dancing in the club – I considered it talentless – and I couldn’t do it well. “Stop counting”, Jack playfully snapped as we moved in unfamiliar and uncomfortable ways (for me) in his living room, disco something-rather emanating from the computer speakers. If Jack had been snobbier in practice, and not just in perceived presentation, he would have been a great club kid. He could dance – like “club dance” – with the best of them. After a little over an hour of disco disasters, Jack turned off the music. “That wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t horrible. Just pray you’re competing against the straight boys”. Only slightly insulted, and glad the discotheque session was over, I thought it best to move on.
“So, what are you going to say”? Jack asked, having returned to his favorite chair. “You write, you’re a writer, what are you going to say”? The contest guidelines suggested each contestant’s speech include details about how they were actively helping their communities – volunteering for worthwhile causes, perhaps planting trees and, on an ambitious day, making a real and measurable difference. I paused. “I like puppies” I whispered. Jack smiled. “Go with that – keep it honest – you like puppies – I’d vote for you – and just try not to include profanity in your speech, okay?”. I smiled, knowing I couldn’t promise a thing. ______________
“You’ll be fine”, Jack said as he hugged me before I joined the 14 others backstage.
Backstage wasn’t much different than the reality show “Survivor” – or any other really shitty TV trash where the contestants are outwardly nice, but secretly want everyone else to be eaten by piranhas. Fake smiles and limp and disingenuous handshakes greeted me as I introduced myself. I was the only guy backstage drinking American beer from a bottle. I quickly realized the evening wouldn’t be fun – but I’d make the most of it. In my bag of goodies, I had a classy suit, metallic boxers, and I loved puppies. Who in this world could do better than that?
The bar was packed with drunken strangers - and the contest began. When it was my turn, I danced on stage while underneath a blinding spotlight, for too long a time in my underwear, to unfamiliar repetitive techno beats. Then, later, I and the other contestants took turns strolling across the stage in our formal wear – me doing my best impression of someone confident and sophisticated. And – for my speech – I took Jack’s advice, kind-of. I was honest. I walked up to the microphone, clad in my comfortable jeans and t-shirt street wear and said, “I love puppies. They’re the fucking best” and stepped away from the mic. Much to my surprise – the room erupted in applause.
The Mr. Stud Las Vegas panel of judges were made up of local celebrities who had actively and publicly made a positive difference of some kind within the local gay and lesbian community. For the entire event, Jack sat in the front row, to the right of the judges, cheering me on. I wouldn’t say he was proud of me, exactly – but he had my back, as the best friends in life do. Moments before the winners were announced, Jack gave me a thumbs up. I knew I wouldn’t win the contest – but, what if…
15 young men stood on stage in three rows. I stood in the first row, closest to the audience (I made sure of it), because I’m aggressive, determined, and kind of an asshole when I’m surrounded by pretentious pretty boys without manners. The top five contestants were announced, one by one. “And the fourth runner up is…” and I didn’t hear my name. 14 of us remained. And the third runner up is…” and I, again, didn’t hear my name called. 13 of us remained on the stage. My hopes flickered – would I be Mr. Stud Las Vegas? No, it couldn’t be!? And, as it happened, it wasn’t. “And the second runner up is – I then heard my name called. The lowest ranking to go home with a trophy. I stood on that stage, slightly drunk, with pride and head high in the air holding my plastic trophy, happy to be third. I didn’t hear the names called for the 1st runner up and the winner of the contest – I was too busy basking in the glory of placing at all.
As soon as I had gathered my things, I exited the backstage area and walked onto the main floor of the club. Jack sat on a barstool that swiveled, swirling his fancy cognac in his fancy glass - smiling at me. “I knew you’d do well”, his lopsided boyish grin wider than I’d ever seen it. “Yeah, it didn’t totally suck”, I admitted. “Just remind me not to dance in my underwear in front of a crowd again – that shit is humiliating as fuck”. Jack nodded his head in agreement. _____________
Just slightly less than a year later, Jack and I sat on the same barstools we’d swiveled in for years and, making my first trip to the men’s room for the evening, I stood at the urinal and saw the flier on the wall in front of me. “I don’t think so”, I said aloud with a grin. I flushed and rejoined Jack at the bar.
“I’ll take another beer and he’ll have another glass of that fancy shit he’s drinking”, I told the bartender. Jack and I, hanging out at the dive bar, me in jeans and a t-shirt – he in a fashionable vest and a colorful dress shirt buttoned all the way up.
We were where we belonged at that moment. And it felt good.
Pictured: Jimmy Broccoli on the steps of the Vegetable Tray, hanging out with anthologies.