Chapter 23

Sooner or later somebody was going to tap me for the contest scene.  I came by it kind of naturally.  There was beauty in my DNA on both sides.  Even some minor stars, even scandals, of the Beauty Star mythology.  My Aunt Angela, way back in the fifties, had been a favorite to take home MissAlabama, but she refused to traipse out on stage in a bathing suit.  I don’t know what she was thinking, but she took one look at herself in that suit and said it was too sinful to parade around in front of folks and wouldn’t budge.  So she got scratched, but was a shining star of virtue in the family and church for generations.   No coincidence there’d be other beauty queens in the extended family.  The fruit and flower of our family tree tended to produce quite a few major babes over the years.  Another umpteenth cousin thrice removed in ascendancy, or whatever it looked like on genealogy paper, was a Sugar Bowl queen.  Her big fam fame came from dating General William Westmoreland and turning down his engagement plea.  So he went off to win hearts and minds elsewhere.  Maybe if JoBee had given him a tumble it would have changed history.  She was whispered to be an incandescently hot number and kinkier than a pickaninny’s pubies.

But once I got into it, it started being a major time-taker.  I’d be going to school, sports practice after, chores at home, church on Sunday and Wednesday nights, then doing the pageant thing. Which might involve driving a few hundred miles to where some regional contest or tryout was going on, along with all the paraphernalia.  Which was starting to get extensive.  And therefore expensive. But I had this huge, growing support system.  It was a group effort.  The whole thing was totally beyond our churchmouse means, but there were generally some sort of sponsorship deals paying for the clothes and accessories and such.  Even when that sort of payment and support was against the rules of that particular pageant, there was generally somebody who would spring for it, or give me an “early birthday present” like a gown or some crazy shoes.  Local merchants, suspicious men, boosters, alumni clubs.

And we’d end up driving over there with some relative or another.  This wasn’t charity or family support or anything like; they wanted to be part of it.  They wanted to bask in my glory, is what it was.  I was their hero, the one who stepped out into the lights, who was a winner and brought back trophies and glory.  Maybe they’d even be standing behind me when a newspaper photographer grabbed a shot or some local TV feed picked me up on camera.  I was like an astronaut or something, all these people dedicated to getting me out there in orbit for a second.  I wasn’t really so much a princess or queen; more like a champion who went out and won for them.   And there’d be various sizes of victory celebrations back home.

It never really came to me at the time, but they were feeding off me, in a way.  I mean they were supporting me, but also they were getting some sort of fix off me.  I didn’t realize it, but I had a major entourage before I hit my teens.

And, notice, already getting corrupted.  Nice things from shady men with their own agendas.  Much gets made of “loss of innocence”.  As though you lose it in a fit of passion, like your virginity.  But I think it’s more of an attrition process. Like acne clearing up or building a drug habit.

When you come down to it, what would you call the entire process of making yourself look like somebody other than yourself in order to win approval?  What girls pick up on: doing the nails, blushers, bronzers, pancake underlay, shaders, eye pencils, plucking, waxing, bra-stuffing, starving, calves reshaped by fuck-me shoes, lipstick systems, all the hair insanity, girdles, pushup bras…the whole nine yards of putting it on.  And that’s not even talking about the surgeries and hormones and all that later-on mess.  It’s a disinformation campaign and we pick it up as we go along.   And contests just accelerate that process.  Like any sort of refining or breeding process.

Really, isn’t it just giving up a little piece of yourself at a time, playing games to get something from somebody?  Even if it’s just a second glance?  Take a look at the “talent portion”.  Frankly, I don’t understand why they have all this talent and citizenship nonsense.  It’s a beauty contest!  Who cares if you play “Humoresque” on your butt cheeks while jugglingChihuahuas?  Who cares what some junior high ditz thinks about the national debt?  It’s like choosing Olympic athletes based on how well they play scrabble and walk with a book on their head.  Not a problem for girls who’ve been playing piano for years or taking dance or hanging at some Chihuahua juggling dojo.  They enjoy that stuff and are dying to trot it out.   But what do the girls do who don’t have some shtick working for them?  Same thing girls who don’t have presentable boobs do.  Fake it.  So think about that.  Here’s some kid going to coaches and spending all this time and energy learning how to do some Art not because she enjoys it, but in order to impress people.   Isn’t that corrupt?  Isn’t that learning to sell yourself short for superficial advantage?

You probably guessed from my take on Talent Portions that I didn’t have a talent.  I’d never needed one before.  Being pretty and built and athletic and hot-headed had always been enough.  So I had to start getting talented, right away.  Actually a lot of girls are in the same boat.  Oops, too bad you didn’t learn how to play cello or do ballet or tap dance on the way up.  Here, let’s see what you can do with this baton.  With my husky voice I sure wasn’t going to do any interpretive readings and I wasn’t one bit musical. Break-dancing and rapping were apparently not a good plan, especially for Ms. Snow White with a cracker accent.  So it was a problem.  Finally, one of my teachers, who was also basking in my tiaras and coverage, said, “What do you best, Cammy?”

Which at the time was playing basketball. It took a few minutes for me to figure it out and tell her, but what came out of it was my famous, talented, showstopper basketball dribbling number.  Which stood me in good stead for several years until I had some pageant coach work up this aerobics/martial arts/gymnastic routine that looked like something out of the Beijing Olympics and Pow called the Chink Acrobat Plot.

Not much to it.  I worked on special moves a little, but basically just grabbed a roundball and dribbled it around.  Highly special moves between my legs, off my knees, rolling down my arms, bouncing off my head like a soccer player.  Believe it or not, I’d never seen the Harlem Globetrotters at that time, but somebody gave me a DVD and I was just knocked over dead.  I copped some of those moves, built a whole routine up.  Flora Lee called it The Honky PigTrotters.  I assumed I’d use “Sweet Georgia Brown” but there were problems with that.  One of them being the pesky White Girl Problem, but also if I worked up in state tournaments, it wouldn’t do to prance out playing the theme song for another state.  When I saw “Little Miss Sunshine” I was pissed off it didn’t come to my mind to do “Super Freak” or some other stripper number.  But what the music teacher at school came up with probably went over better.  It was a karaoke tape for a Little Feat song called “Rock and Roll Doctor” and had these staccato breaks where I could do some fast dribbles to the beat.  The music didn’t matter all that much.  It was just jocking off, really.  Later we went to this bluegrass breakdown thing where they were playing like mad, then doubled the time, then doubled it again.  At the finale I’d be pounding that ball down with my hand no higher than my knee, rackety-racking like an impact wrench.

So that handled the Talent Portion.  I had the gown and swimsuit portions nailed.  Nobody knew at the time, but I’d go on to be a pro swimsuit model and sashay around expensive watering holes in gowns so overstated elegant they required licensing to purchase or possess.  It was some kid turning out to play some hoops in Junior High, before anybody knew he’d turn out to be Kobe Bryant.

Of course the whole citizenship, intellectual portion is a bad old joke anyway.  And you don’t have to be Miss SouthCarolinato know that.  You don’t even have to know the answer to anything, just simper and give your nitwit opinion.   And yes, I’m aware that every pageant has a couple of dum ‘hos who can’t even do that.  But nobody cares, do they?  So I was all set up for a run through the Game Of Crowns.  God knows how far I’d gone if I’d really given a half damn about it.