THE POST-SHOW RECEPTION
(or: "Beef Jerky Face")
June 16, 2001; dedicated to Ms. Edna Pearl
worked today. Ordinarily I'm off on weekends, but once a season
the Smithsonian Associates do a big theater outing for their
membership, taking them to see a show at Arena Stage, and I have
to pitch in and help with the post-show reception. It's a fairly
wealthy, lah-di-dah, lots-of-disposable-income type of crowd
that shows up for these things. Ruddy, country club-looking guys;
elegantly coiffed, pampered-looking women. Lots of manicured
mitts and bejeweled claws reaching across the counter to snag
the booze. No one's wearing less than $1,500 worth of clothing
or three times that amount in jewelry.
I go on down to the theater and help set the Fichandler lobby
up for the soiree after the play. Dragging tables and chairs
out, setting up the buffet, coordinating with the caterers, laying
out the food, stocking the bar, etc.... The show ends, the crowd
comes pouring into the lobby and attacks the buffet like crazed
jackals on a zebra carcass. I'm tending bar, and pouring wine
and mineral water and sodas and beer, and keeping up with demand
pretty well. Rich folks love free drinks, I'm telling
a lull in the activity, and I turn away to pour myself a drink.
I hear a deep, rumbling voice say "Do you have Chardonnay?" and as I turn around to answer, three things happen:
1.) I realize that the voice-- which sounds for all the world
like a wino retching through a kazoo-- is emanating from this
tiny, shriveled woman.
2.) I register that she is perhaps the ugliest, most frightening
looking human I have ever seen up close.
3.) The wave of stench hits me like a wet slap-- the acrid stink
of stale cigarette smoke. I mean, it doesn't just cling to her,
it seems to envelop her completely. She's almost...gummy with
it. Maybe it's what's holding all four and a half feet of her
together... that and the Chanel suit.
has a face that looks like it was sewn from old footballs--wrinkled,
puckered, deeply grooved and hideously dark. Tanned way beyond
normal limits. And let me hasten to add that this was definitely
a Caucasian female. My first thought was something completely
incoherent, along the lines of "AAARRRGGH! BLAAAAHHH! EWWWWWWW!"
and then I recall thinking "She's been smoke cured, like
a ham; she has...my God-- it's....it's....beef jerky face!!"
She had the appearance and aroma of someone who's spent the last
25 years chain smoking inside a telephone booth...
very difficult to convey exactly how frighteningly grotesque
this woman was. Her age could have been anywhere from 60 to 120--
it was impossible to tell without carbon dating, or maybe sawing
thru her and counting the rings. I am being kind, here. Maybe
at one time she was a cute baby, or a pretty young girl. Time
had not been gentle with her. Time had actually used her as the
butt of some horrid joke, frankly. Smoking had contributed to
the overall picture in at least a couple of ways. You don't get
that sort of voice without decades of pounding down the butts,
and your skin doesn't take on that awful, sickly-- whatever the
opposite of "luster" is-- without constant exposure
hair did not move. It was not a wig; I could clearly see
where it was attached to her scalp. It was just....rigid. Completely
inflexible, despite the Washington humidity. An engineering marvel
or a triumph of chemistry, I'm not sure which. And she stank. Oh, God, did she reek! It was like someone had animated
a cigarette butt, slapped a plastic wig on it, installed a mechanical
voicebox and set it toddling into the lobby to ask me for wine. "Uh... yes, ma'am; Chardonnay", I replied, trying desperately not to show how horrified I was by her appearance.
"Thanks. Where can I smoke?" was her next question.
I directed her to the balcony off the lobby which overhangs the
parking lot, and she ambled out there and spent the remainder
of the afternoon chain smoking, while perched like some wizened
little sparrow on a chair by the railing. She never ate anything,
just drank and smoked. She came back inside to refill her wine
glass 4 times, and to treat the rest of us to her 150 decibel,
hacking, barking, phlegmy-rich cough, replete with hawking and
snorting and throat clearing....it sounded like an agitated Rottweiler
trying to cough up chunks of some mailman's ass...
it's obvious not everyone ages gracefully. Nor is everyone gifted
with fabulous genes and a supermodel physiognomy. We're all (hopefully)
going to get old and wrinkly--but sweet Jesus! We don't have
to actively promote this sort of freakshow by continuing to smoke!
If I needed another reminder of what an unglamorous, stinking,
appallingly disgusting habit smoking is, I couldn't have asked
for a more dramatic one than manifested itself at work this afternoon.
God bless you, smelly, scary, mummified-looking lady; may you
inspire others to refrain from tobacco wherever you go next.
Drop me a note with any questions,
comments, criticism, cogent thoughts,
cease-and-desist orders, etc., etc...