the real life of fancy people

dresssy“Is it supposed to be ripping?” Aubrey asked as we struggled to get the dress over my head. Some get-ups are simply a two man project, and this dress was quite the get-up.

“No, generally that’s not a good thing,” I said as I tried unsuccessfully to shimmy into the sparkly death trap. “Mom already redid the seams on the side. Can you check to make sure the straps are still attached?”

Last year, when I was asked to cover the annual charity ball of a particularly humanitarian chamber of commerce in San Diego, I wore my only pair of fancy dress shoes (purchased for my High School Spring Formal back in 2009). Both straps snapped before dinner made it to the tables. The barman was kind enough to lend me some masking tape, but eventually I just went barefoot.

I have sturdier shoes now. It’s the dress I’m worried about. I just don’t have fancy-people clothes.

“I mean, for being Sarah’s dress, it fits you pretty well,” Aubrey said as we stood back to admire our handiwork (getting the dress on in one piece). For being a thirteen-year-old, Aubrey is a pretty good wingman.

Mom insisted on getting pictures as I hurried out the door. I protested because this was not Prom, this was work, but all she could see were the glittery earrings and the fact that I was wearing make-up for the first time in several months. We snapped some hurried photos.

I raced to Downtown, nerves flaring. I may have gently nudged a parked vehicle with my car this week and it was a scarring experience, especially considering that the other driver was sitting in the front seat while it happened. I haven’t cried so hard in front of a stranger since that bus driver in Prague shouted at me two years ago.

These happy thoughts in mind, I made my way gingerly into the crowded, chaotic streets of the Gaslamp and circled disorientedly for a place to pull up.

“Where have you been?” my editor asked cheerfully through the phone as I locked my car and began a conspicuous trek through downtown in all my second-hand pomp and circumstance. He knows I’ve been lost.

“Almost there,” I said, navigating the muck on the sidewalks with my unnecessarily long, swishy dress, camera bag slung unceremoniously over my shoulder.

“How are your shoes?” he asked.

“Sturdy,” I promised.

San Diego’s Horton Grand Hotel rose before me, lit brightly from the inside. Glamorous figures paraded around the entryway and lounged in the dimmer parlor bars on either side of the lobby, some already well into the evening’s supply of alcohol. A pair of finely dressed greeters stood near the door to sign people in and accept donations for the charity gala’s cause.

Golden shoes and glittery dresses flashed and sparkled and men in bowties and waistcoats pranced about in black masks. Everywhere was a different face – here an elephant man, there a phantom or a butterfly or horned lion.

Romance is dead, my friends. Social media has killed it.

I had brought a mask with me but I bought it at a 99c store and, frankly, it was just a little too yellow for my taste. Besides, I was working. One cannot take pictures while wearing a mask. That’s what I’ll tell him. I had a whole line of excuses ready for my editor for not wearing one.

By the time I found him, he was lining up on the red carpet near the entrance to the patio and could have cared less about my mask. Granted, the massive, live boa constrictor was a bit of a distraction.

Individually and in groups, guests stood on the carpet to get their photos taken by the professionals waiting behind flashing cameras while a snake handler draped the large reptile over their shoulders.

My boss was nigh on gleeful when we finally made our way across the room and into the patio, lit with thousands of white bulbs and washed in the warmth of a perfect summer night. Tables with treats waited for VIPs and a DJ and acrobatic dancers kept the air full of energy and movement.

I took a water bottle from our table and stowed my camera bag beneath one of the chairs. Time to get to work.

For the next 45 minutes, I moved around the hotel from lounge to lobby to back hallway bathrooms and back again in the search of a perfect photo for the story. Mostly, I found a lot of delightful, inebriated people dressed very, very nicely. The Horton had all types, really. The cool kids of wealthy community members who were trying to not enjoy the silver spoon they were dining on, the loners dreaming in corners on dark bar stools, the loud and lively divas with outfits as sparkly as their personalities, the nicely dressed men who think that hitting on a woman these days means asking if she has facebook.

Wait, let’s stop there.

Gone are the days when a man approached a woman with mystery and finesse. Smooth talking, swashbuckling roustabouts that our mamas warned us about no longer exist. They have been replaced by guys who totter over to say you look pretty and then ask if you can be friends on facebook and then make you type your own name into their phones.

Romance is dead, my friends. Social media has killed it.

But back to the soiree.

I sometimes pay for gas in quarters. Like this morning.

At some point, I found myself climbing a water fountain erupting from the side of the west-facing patio wall. For someone scared of heights, I felt this was going above and beyond the call of duty, but a winning trait of a good photographer is relentlessness and I’m trying to improve. With the sound of water trickling behind me and a devastating fall waiting in front of me, I looked out over the masked faces of several hundred people and thought, so this is how the fancy people live.

Crowning the evening was the main event, a fashion show and hair styling contest. I crouched down on the ground in front of a row of other photographers (I have also learned how to be pushy in this occupation), and clicked away as model after model sauntered through the crowd, heads tossed back elegantly as if to say, beautiful people don’t pay for their gas money in quarters.

I sometimes pay for gas in quarters. Like this morning.

The hair models were even more magnificent, sacheing from one corner of the fairy-like patio decor to another, holding up massive hair displays on slender necks.

By the end of the show, my sparkly black gown seemed rather commonplace.

Eventually, the DJ returned to his throne behind the speakers. A pageant queen was sitting on a chair, enormous crown pinned to her head and sash wound around her tiny waist, trying to rest her heeled feet. The line at the bar reappeared out of nowhere.

Too noisy to interview the designers and too chaotic to talk with the organizers, the party seemed to be losing its potential for productivity. I found my editor outside by the valets.

“I think my job here is done,” I told him, collapsing onto a bench. “I can call my sources tomorrow when they’re a little more available.”

“How did your shoes hold up?” he asked.

I looked down to double check that they were still attached to my feet, only to notice that a seem on my dress had begun to split.

“They’re doing okay,” I told him, “But if I don’t get home by midnight, I may turn back into a pumpkin.”

“Did you have fun?” he asked me as I packed my camera back into its bulky black bag.

“It was a nice evening,” I said. He waited.

“Honestly,” I finally said with a small sigh, “I think I’d rather be covering a game right now.”

He smiled.

Promising to get him copy on time (always a challenge for me), I swooshed into the night with my sturdy shoes and an old black dress that wasn’t even mine. I hadn’t had to put my mask on all evening and as I mentally reviewed my pictures, I was positive I had at least a few workable shots.

Downtown glittered in the midnight air and laughter and music spilled from the labyrinth of streets that led me back to my car.

Homeless people picked through trash and Uber drivers and taxis let out well-dressed men and women into streets full of regular people just having a good time.

And I was happy to be one of them.

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2 thoughts on “the real life of fancy people

  1. I adore the line: “Romance in dead, my friends. Social media has killed it.”

    I’m adding that one to my quotation journal. Right after my page of quotes by Anne Lamott. (If you ever want to read Christian snark, she’s your go-to gal.) I think you guys will get along fine. 😉

    Thanks again for the coffee and the chat a few weeks ago–I loved seeing you!! How’s the teaching going?

    Warmly,
    Susanne 🙂

    Like

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