I have utterly no idea who this year's "Miss Oregon" is (Allison Elizabeth Cook of Klamath Falls, for those of you interested, who is all of nineteen and either attends or attended Oregon Institute of Technology and who ran on the "platform issue" of Brain Injury Awareness - isn't the Internet amazing..?) or who last year's Miss America was (Mallory Hagen, Miss New York, whose winning performance included performing a tap dance routine to James Brown's "Get Up Offa That Thing" while wearing a latex rodeo outfit. She's twenty-five) or, well, pretty much anything about Miss America.
So you can trust me when I say that when I channel-surfed onto the 2014 Miss America show Sunday night it was purely by accident.
I'd had a busy day and was ready for sleep, anyway. My bride, however, likes to have a television oblongata as she fiddles with her tablet. I asked her which she preferred, the old movie on TCM or the Misses Americas and she chose the latter.
I watched a little of the opening of the show, which seemed to consist of groups of the young ladies doing a sort of one-too-many-mojitos-at-the-bachelorette-party dance
(you know the sort of thing, a lot of arm-waving and hip-circling along with tottery aimless little steps? Yeah, that.)at various locales and stepping forward to introduce themselves. This consisted of a two- or three-sentence snippet that started with some sort of topical reference to the contestant's home state and then her connection to it; "Listening to your phone calls from the nation's capital. Just kidding! I'm Miss District of Columbia, Bindhu Pamarthi." or "Our Utah Jazz sure aren't bringing home the championship. Guess It's up to me! Ciera Pekarcik, Miss Utah."
The actual contest venue was in some sort of anonymous auditorium - presumably in Atlantic City, since isn't the whole idea to bring the tourists to the boardwalk and crimp their money? - buried beneath a ziggurat of glitter and lights with some sort of generic male-and-female hosting-type creatures and Miss 2013 Mallory Hagen in a crown and a white dress looking rather queen-like though not in a drag-queeny sort of way.
And, of course, all the contestant Misses Whereevers doing their bachelorette-party dance again, only this time in identical short dark dresses.
I watched all this in a fairly stupefied fashion. It just seemed excessive and I was reminded rather forcefully of that awful Sandra Bullock film Miss Congeniality and got a chuckle out of that.
The massed gyrating ranks of Miss American womanhood, however, seemed faintly intimidating. I assume there were only 53 of them - all the states plus DC, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands - but they seemed like a Multitude.
Perhaps because for all that they were as different from each other as Americans are different from each other (at least you could see in hair and skin color every place of origin from Europe to Africa to Asia and every admixture in-between...) they all seemed frighteningly alike.
Tall, or at least so slender as to seem tall, slim with endless slender arms and long legs. Perfect, glossy hair and lots of it. Gleaming teeth, shining eyes, flawless skin. Perfectly fitted into their perfectly tailored outfits, perfect feet shod in perfect shoes.
Perfection, and lots of it.
I went to read in bed.
A while later Mojo came in and pottered about making her nightly pre-sleep preparations. Finally she plumped down on the bed with a happy sigh.
"What did you think?" she asked.
"About what?" I said, putting Atkinson and my reading glasses on the nightstand.
"Of the swimsuits?" she said. "You're kidding. Didn't you see any of the swimsuit part?"
"No, I left before the thing really got started. How did the fembots look in their swimmies?"
"Very sleek." Mojo tipped her head and looked at me slantendicular. "You didn't even sneak a look at the swimsuit competition?"
"Nah. I know what fembots look like in their swimsuits, and I wanted to finish this chapter."
Mojo snorted. "Sure. You tell me you don't find watching them at all sexy?"
And that stopped me. I actually had to think about that for a moment.
Because when you get right down to it, that's really what all the beauty pageant business is about, isn't it? Sure, there's a lot of guff in the prospectus about talent and poise and style, sure, there are points for interviews and "platforms" and there's a scholarship...but the bottom line is that these women are there because they are beautiful, because they are endmembers of a certain human ideal of appearance, attitude, and aptitude, and the whole point is that they are "Miss America"; the sort of young, single woman that is supposed to be an American ideal.
So as a "Mister America" it seemed logical that these young women were supposed to appeal to me intellectually, emotionally, and - if not most importantly at least importantly - physically.
I should find them desirable. Sexually desirable.
And the more I thought about it the less true that seems, and it made me wonder why.
Pretty? Sure. Well-groomed? Yep.
What the hell was wrong with me, then? These were by all appearances healthy, vigorous young women with bodies that appeared (from Mojo's viewing of them in their swimsuits, anyway) perfectly fit and feminine. Knowing how us guys like to look at you girls, well, there should have been an element of sexual attraction there. I should have looked at the Misses America and wanted to roll about naked with at least one of them, right?
I just didn't feel it and it took me a while to pinpoint why not.
It was, for me, anyway, the sheer perfection of those bodies and the women within them.
In those sleek contestants there seemed to be not a hint of human oddity, not a whisper of offhand intimacy, not a scrap of careless desire. All was taut expectation; poised, controlled, and precise. The contestants, the contest, and the broadcasters had done a perfect job of eliminating any shred of human weakness or imperfection.
And the more I thought about it the more accurate, and the less arousing, that perfection seemed. Although for all I know any number of these women might well be bright, funny, warm, desirable people you couldn't tell that from what you saw on television. All you saw was perfection.
And it is imperfection - for me, anyway - that fuels desire.
It's not a perfect ass or perfect breasts or perfect legs or a perfect face; its the ass that belongs to the woman curled up beside me companionably doing a sudoku, or leaning frowsy and warm against a morning countertop, scratching that bottom while she waits for the coffee to brew.
Its the way the parabola of those imperfect breasts shake as she straddles my hips and tells bad jokes and laughs at her own hilarity. Its the feel of those legs twined around my own, or the look on that face as it is drawn in concentration, or lightens in pleasant relaxation, or lours at me with incipient lust.
It is the sudden intimacy of a glimpse inside her half-opened bathrobe, or of the unperfect arc of her calf diving into her furry socks that keep her feet warm on a chilly evening.
Don't get me wrong. I "get it", the human ability to desire an anonymous ideal body, a perfect "zipless fuck". I'm not a marble saint; I've looked at women and thought carnal thoughts.
But...those women tend to be everyday, ordinary women whose everyday bodies, as imperfect and ordinary as my own, seem infinitely more desirable than the most perfect Miss Somewhere whose gelid smile and serene glance seems to free them from the earthy everydayness I share with their imperfect sisters.
I won't pretend I had figured all this out last night as a settled beside the warmth of my sleeping bride. But I think perhaps I had the main of it, in the lazy flush of warm, undemanding passion I felt for her.
No one will ever gaze in awe at her perfect skin, or marvel at the tautness of her perfect breasts. She will never again have the sleek vigor of youth. She will never wear America's crown of womanly perfection.
But to me she is infinitely, imperfectly desirable, far beyond the rank upon rank of perfect Misses.
To a Red-Haired Beggar Girl
Little white girl with red hair,
The holes in your frock
For me, a poor poet,
Your young and ailing body,
Spotted with, freckles,
Has its sweetness.
You carry more gallantly,
Than can a queen of fiction
Her high-boots of velvet,
Your heavy clogs.
In place of rags too short for you,
May a fine court costume
Be drawn in blustering, long folds
At your heels;
In place of stockings in holes,
May a dagger of gold
Glitter for the eyes of rakes
On your leg;
May barely fastened knots
Reveal for our sinning
Your lovely breasts, radiant
As two eyes;
May, to undress yourself,
Your arms require coaxing
And may they archly repel
May pearls of finest water,
Sonnets by Belleau,
Be ceaselessly proffered
By your enslaved lovers,
Trains of servant rhymers,
Dedicating first lines to you
And watching your slipper
Under the staircase,
Many a flunkey struck at random,
Many a lord and many a Ronsard
Would spy to seduce it,
Your tender retreat!
You would count more kisses
Than lilies in your beds
And you would hold in sway
More than one Valois!
— Meanwhile you go begging
Some old rubbish lying
On the threshold of some
You go gaping past your shoulder
At twenty-nine sou jewels
Of which, I cannot, I am sorry,
Make a gift to you.
Go then, without other ornament,
Perfume, pearls or diamonds,
Than your emaciated nudity,
O my beauty!
~ Charles Baudelaire