RETURN OF BEEF JERKY FACE
April 14, 2002
night at Arena Stage in D.C.-- everything's set up in the Old
Vat Room for the evening's soiree. It's a high-dollar, A-list,
invitational pre-show dinner, followed by a world premiere of
a new musical by Zora Neale Hurston (the script lay forgotten
in a drawer at the Library of Congress for nearly 60 years..!)
and then a post-show dessert buffet-- all to benefit the Black
Student Fund. Donors on parade! Big bux; every guy in a suit!
got to be on hand to coordinate with the caterers, schmooze the
hostess for the evening, and to run the music and work the mikes
for the guests who will be speaking during the dinner. This means
I can eat and drink my fill because the catering company is one
we use often and they're cool people, and I get to hide from
the rich people in the sound booth at the rear of the room. Not
a bad setup. Everything is going fine, and I'm actually taking
a break at one point, having a drink and minding the bar while
the bartender has slipped off to the men's room for a moment.
I have a glass of Chardonnay?" says a voice that could be
Harvey Fierstein doing a Louis Armstrong impression, but tonally
was just slightly obscured and muffled, as though by a really
dense fog. It's at once raspy and phlegmy, deep and wheezy, syrupy
and crackling. Like Truman Capote channeling James Earl Jones.
It whispered of unspeakable, unknowable horrors if the owner
were ever to hawk and spit at you...
slowly--because I've seen the name on the guest list and have
been expecting this-- and am confronted once again by the apparition
I've come to refer to as "Beef Jerky Face". (I refer
you to a Google search for a post of mine from July of 2001,
entitled "At The Post Show Reception", where BJF made
she is, in the wrinkled, wizened, desiccated flesh. What fuels
this woman, I wonder? I never see her eat at these bashes; she
spends all her time drinking and smoking. Perhaps she drains
the juices from a captive teenager or two she has chained in
her basement before she ventures forth into the night...
she had a new hairdo--it was lacquered and piled up so that she
looked far taller than her 4' 7"--or whatever the hell it
is. The hair still does not move. I mean not...one...iota. Her
eyebrows are drawn on thickly with some sort of grease stick,
and the large hair and arched, fake brows give her the impression
of an acre and a half of forehead, beneath which crouches a startled,
alarmed expression. Her face was a relief map of wrinkles, too
much sun and a riot zone of obvious and over-indulgent bad living.
She looked completely preserved, like a well-cured ham or....
a chunk of beef jerky. I said previously that it appeared she'd
spent 25 years chain smoking in a telephone booth. I'd add to
this that the phone booth was somewhere in the Arizona desert,
taking a dozen cartons of unfiltered Camels, tossing them into
a stewpot with a few gallons of water and then boiling them down
until you got a dense, sludgy brownish goo that a paintbrush
might stand upright in-- like molasses and epoxy cement. Now,
take that paintbrush with a huge gob of this wretched crap on
it and slap it liberally onto a weathered old shingle. Let it
dry, and then carve lips, eyes and a nose into it. Breathe life
into the shingle somehow, and place it on a birdlike little body
belonging to a woman who smells like the afterburner of a 747
jet--and you've got Beef Jerky Face. Brown, shriveled, unhealthy-looking
and unfathomably old. (This is also, I hasten to remind you,
a Caucasian woman; I'm certain of this fact.)
reeked of stale smoke and expensive perfume. Her teeth were a
dark beige, and her entire being conveyed the sense that she
might begin to flake and crumble at any moment if she were to
fail to replenish her nicotine and tar-rich combination body
armor/skin glaze. Tonight she was wearing a new gown, very unlike
the Chanel suit I last saw her in. This number was sort of filmy
and gauzy and (the horror...the horror!) it turns out it's the
sort of a dress you can see through--and you don't want to...!!
It would have been very alluring on someone younger (she's somewhere
between 65 and 370 years old) and attractive. As it was, the
effect was rather like watching a 10 car, multi-fatality pile-up
on the highway: you hate to look, but the sick fascination overcomes
your better judgment until you're just queasy and numb with disbelief...
no place to smoke down here, is there?" was her next question.
"No, ma'am, there isn't. Smoking isn't permitted anywhere
in the building, I'm afraid" I said.
"Well, where the hell can I go to have a cigarette?"
"You can go back upstairs and smoke outside the entrance.
There's an ashtray bolted to the wall around the corner from
the front door" I told her.
"Oh, horseshit!" she muttered, and wandered off...
the next few hours I saw her climb and descend the steps a half
dozen times or so, to feed her demon. In between trips she'd
nourish herself for the next ascent with glasses of wine. At
one point I saw some women come scurrying out of the ladies'
room, waving their hands in the air and making awful faces. They
were followed out by Ms. Face, herself, trailing a dense cloud
of smoke. Seems she'd grown weary of the trek out into the fresh,
balmy, springtime evening air and decided to just sit in a toilet
stall and fire up a butt...
in the fairly small cabaret space, this went over about as well
as a large turd afloat in the ornate, silver punchbowl. You could
actually *see* the crowd shift away from that side of the room
and press more tightly up against the buffet. BJF began her tedious
stair-climbing again, having been chastised by someone on the
staff. It was a weird sight to behold; this tiny, determined
old woman, marching single-mindedly to feed her jones throughout
the evening while everyone else gorged at the buffet, chatted,
networked and gabbed in eager anticipation of the world premiere
show they were about to see. Eventually the place cleared out,
and I lost track of her as the crowd left to go across to the
theater for the 8:00 curtain. I'm sure I'll see her again at
some function or other. She's far too well preserved to do something
as mundane as dying, I'm sure. It may be the thick layer
of gummy cigarette residue that keeps germs from getting close
enough to her actual body to do her any significant damage. She'll
probably have to be run down by a bus, is my guess...
freakish, frightful appearance, her rancid stench and her one-note,
addict's demeanor made me thankful all over again for having
kicked this disgusting habit. Bless you, you little mummified,
gooey, nicotine lozenge of a woman! You make me feel just GREAT
Drop me a note with any questions,
comments, criticism, cogent thoughts,
cease-and-desist orders, etc., etc...