Friday, June 29th, 2012
The day began like any other, which is to say with me sitting in an unmarked van with a pair of binoculars, a telescope, and a parabolic microphone. There was knock on my driver’s side window.
“Sir,” the officer began in a tone which suggested an uncomfortable question was imminent, “may I ask what you’re doing?”
“Stakeout?” I responded in a manner, which, now that I look back on it, should’ve been more matter-of-fact and less matter-of-would-you-believe-me-if-I-said.
“Really? May I see your badge?”
“Ohhh-kay. I have a children’s beauty pageant to go to anyway…I realize that, given my present confines, that sounds bad, but I will return the van and the equipment before heading down. I am, however, keeping the bag of candy and the puppy. It’s a long drive, and I could use the sugar and the company.” Never underestimate the importance of moderate sugar intake and companionship when embarking on a long trip. Since I don’t let dogs in my car, however, I mostly talk to myself to make such trips more bearable. (Editor’s Note: Did you really think these ideas come from someone who had ready access to human companionship…or candy?)
“I didn’t just hear that.”
“It’s probably best that you didn’t. I’ll be on my way.”
I packed up my equipment, returned the van, and headed home. It was 12:30AM, and I had to be in Winston-Salem, NC by 1:00 PM for Day 1 of my nieces’ first foray into the pageant circuit, which meant it was my first foray into the pageant circuit. (It would also be my sister’s first experience as a pageant mom, though, to be fair, she had plenty of experience as an All-Day, Every-Day Diva from which to draw.) To prepare myself for what was to come, I had subjected myself to countless hours of footage from various Hooters International Swimsuit Pageants, Victoria Secret Fashion Shows, and video submissions for Maxim Hometown Hotties. Granted, that last one had nothing to do with pageantry, but those women worked hard on their submission videos and how could I properly select one without getting to know their whole self? It’s the right thing to do.
But what to wear? I had to properly represent my nieces and The Family McCloud while not looking like a douche, an agent (a.k.a “douche”), or a “talent scout” (a.k.a. “pervert”). It would also be 174 degrees in Winston-Salem, which, of course, meant it would be 17 degrees inside the Convention Center. After I picked out several wear-related outfits: sleep, lounge, casual, active, and under; I packed my toiletries, cameras (video and still), tripod, and personal computer. I then packed my trunk and set the destination in my trusty Garmin GPS. Garmin, because naming yourself twice just smacks of arrogance. (Wait for it…there it is.)
It was now 1:30AM. I would have to leave by 10:00AM to get there on time, or 9:00AM if I wanted to account for traffic, rest stops, and lunch. Given my insomnia, I would fall asleep by 3:00AM. Plenty of time as I needed very little sleep and rarely took showers. (Just kidding. I need little sleep; not very little.) My cellphone buzzes announcing an incoming text. It was my sister. She had misjudged the size of the bed in her hotel room and needed extra bedding. I packed a comforter and a sleeping bag, which I washed and dried to ensure freshness. Due to the need to properly dry these items, this pushed falling asleep time to 5:00 AM. Not a problem. At least, not initially.
As any board-certified sleep therapist, or two-year old child, will tell you there are three main components to waking up: falling asleep, waking up, and getting up. Falling asleep wasn’t a problem. My Aetna-produced, online “Overcoming Insomnia” training worked perfectly in that reading it made me sleepy. Waking up posed little problem, as I had multiple alarms, a Swiss-made internal clock, and vivid nightmares. To take care of the third component, I drank close to a gallon of water. Although my alarm clocks all had snooze buttons, my bladder did not. So, it was either get up or wet the bed.
The three parts of my “brilliant” three-part plan worked well. I fell asleep, my alarm clocks woke me up, and my bladder got me out of bed. The issue is that there should’ve been a fourth part, namely, properly estimating the amount of time I would spend in the bathroom. For you see, the problem with taking in a gallon more water than your body needs is that your body has a gallon of water of which it has to rid itself. The fact that the hole from which the water was expelled was considerably smaller than the hole into which the water was poured made the following true: 1) it would take more time to expel the gallon of water than it did to “take it all in”, and 2) the amount of thrust produced from expelling that much water through a small opening would be akin to a jet engine.
“It’s like a gosh-damn shuttle launch!” I thought to myself. (Editor’s Note: That’s right, kids, you can use foul language without being blasphemous…and that’s one to grow on.)
Over the next 30 minutes, I stood there as the floor (and my pants) got wetter and my belly got smaller. When I could finally see my feet, and the wreckage, I was relieved. (See what I did there? “relieved”? Yeah, I got talent.) I flushed, mopped the floor, put on business-casual attire, and headed for Winston-Salem; the city so nice, it’s hyphenated. (Granted, it’s not that catchy, but it’s better much better than the original “Winston-Salem; whatever”.)
I was running late. I could’ve unleashed the full power of my V6, but getting pulled over would put me further behind schedule. I didn’t need to drive harder; I needed to drive smarter…and exceed the speed limit, because good intentions weren’t going to get me there any faster, and I didn’t have time to locate a time machine…or working Delorean. While making good time, I received a text from my sister. So, as any responsible driver would do, I drove to the next exit, pulled into the nearest parking lot, put the car in park, and opened the message.
“Did u pack a suit?”
“No. I hv business-casual incl a sportcoat. Why?”
“Some of the contestants don’t hv escorts & they r lookin 4 volunteers. I thought it would help ur pimp profile. The volunteers are very cute and well-past legal.” (Editor’s Note: This, unfortunately, is true. You see, it’s not my fault, people. It’s others who try to unhinge my moral compass.)
“I wish I had packed a suit, bc every child deserves to wlk dwn the rnwy with an escrt who can hlp thm shine in their moment of glory. In their time of need. To encourage their special tlnts. Nurture their gifts. I wish I cld be that rock for the unescorted. Tht hope 4 the hopeless. Tht ray of sunshine tht brks thru the cloud of their disappointment. Not 4 th ladies, but 4 the chldrn…the chldrn.”
“Ur right. I confused u wth th othr sibling. Th one who would tke advntg of a chldrn in a sad attmpt to pick up wmn. Ur the good one. You’ve alwys been the good one. My apologies.”
“No need to apologize. He does tht to ppl. His evl knws no bounds. I hv 2 go now. Losing precious time; don’t want 2 disappoint the nieces. Thy mean th wrld 2 me.” (That’s right, single moms and single women who one day hope to be moms. I’m just that kinda uncle. Just that kinda selfless giver to the children…To the children.)
Due to a brisk tailwind, I was able to make up some of the lost time. I found a space in the parking garage across the street from the Convention Center with precious little time to spare. I grabbed my cameras (still and video) and ran across the breezeway into the Convention Center. There, I saw one of the volunteers of which my sister spoke.
“I guess there is some time to spare,” I thought to myself.
“Hello, Sir. Can I help you?”
“Yes, my name is Damion McCloud. I am a single uncle of two who took off from his job, which pays a decent wage, and drove the 3+ hours from my home on less-than-adequate sleep to support my nieces. Give them a friendly face in the crowd to focus on in an attempt to help settle their little child nerves.”
“That is so sweet. Which group are they in?”
“That’s such a cute age.”
"It is. I just wish I had packed a suit, so I could help those other little ‘Princesses’ on their journey. For, you see, I have always believed that children are our future. If I teach them well, they may one day lead the way. But, first and foremost, it is my responsibility to show them all of the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride.”
“Awww. You’re a really sweet guy. I’m not a single mom, but I am a single woman who one day hopes to be a mom…The world could really use more guys like you.”
“Thanks. I gotta go be there. In the meantime, keep smiling…keep shining. (Pause for effect…and…scene.)”
“Did you just narrate that?”
I walked to Hall A where my nieces were to complete the talent portion of the competition. I was greeted by a large, male volunteer.
“Sir, just to let you know—“ he began.
“Save it,” I said as I gestured dismissively in his general direction. “I’ve seen ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ four times…I got this.”
I saw my sister inside. She was hard to miss with what the giant signs with my nieces’ names and her giant weave flapping in the breeze as she mirrored her daughters’ onstage moves. My nieces were naturals. My sister, though classically trained, looked awkward. It was probably, because she had the weight of the weave on her shoulders. Poor thing just doesn’t possess my grace.
The rest of the day consisted of costume changes, hair and makeup touch-ups, lunch, and continued attempts at volunteer appreciation.
I woke up the next day at my parents’ house in Durham, NC having spent the night there. I went downstairs to say hello the ‘rents and give them the skinny on the pageant. Perhaps, get some breakfast. There was no breakfast to be had, but there was plenty of food for thought.
“You and your lounge pants,” my mom said.
“Good morning to you, too.”
“How many pairs of those pants do you own.”
“Don’t start with me, Mom. Not today. It’s going to be a long enough day. You can talk all you want about my sister, but don’t disparage the pants.”
“Don’t you have somewhere to be soon?”
“Yes, I do!” I exclaimed as I headed out of the kitchen and up the stairs. “But know this, Lady, I won’t apologize for my love of a functional yet comfortable pant!”
I got dressed and headed back to Winston-Salem. The day played out much the same as the first. The main difference; there was a cover charge. $15 to be exact. These pageant people knew how to work it. The first couple of days, which consisted of several mandatory and optional competitions, were free. The last day, however, in which the final contests were held and the winners were announced, came at a price. They also didn’t allow filming, because they were producing a DVD. Sure, you could skip the third day and just ask your child how she did, but that would make you a bad parent. Besides, what else is there to do in downtown Winston-Salem in 180-degree heat?
The final competition was filled with overdressed, overly made-up kids talking about dreams that there irresponsible parents neglected to tell them would never come true. I’m not talking about dreams of becoming a doctor, astronaut, or President of the United States (or all of those things at once). That could happen. But one young girl mentioned that, when she grew up, she wanted to be a mermaid. I’m no fiction writer or Disney Imagineer, but I’m pretty sure you need to be born a mermaid. Werewolf, vampire, creepy-cute little girl on a tricycle at the beginning of every horror movie that serves as a warning that something bad is about to go down in that house? All possible. Mermaid? Don’t think so.
In the you’re-all-winners manner that permeates most children’s competitions, there were about 70 awards given. My nieces won a couple of them, but not the ones that moved them on to Nationals. Over the three days, however, they competed without getting nervous, they socialized with like-minded kids, and, most-importantly, they had fun. And isn’t that what being a child is all about? That, and helping your favorite uncle meet “well-past legal” single women...