Sex & Cars & Rock & Roll

Eight months ago no one had heard of the Rolling Stone Rock & Roll Bowl, and I was just an obscure graduate student, a former New Times writer enduring a self-imposed five-year exile in the vast Midwest. Today a few dozen people -- perhaps even a few hundred people -- are familiar with the Rolling Stone Rock & Roll Bowl, and while I am still an obscure graduate student, the tenor of my obscurity has changed entirely. Every once in a while, someone calls to say congratulations, or smiles at me on the street. In the bowels of the library, I sometimes permit myself a chuckle. Hard to believe, I know, but it's all the gospel truth -- a national championship can change you that way.

It is, of course, impossible to distill the essence of rock trivia expertise. So much relies on those tiny chromosomal circuits that drive the mainsprings of our personality, and it's difficult to say why one person can live an entirely normal, well-calibrated life A healthy relationships, balanced meals, a new pair of shoes now and again A while another person feels compelled to spend hours scrutinizing the liner notes to an out-of-print Mott the Hoople LP on the slim hope that he will discover who supplies the backup vocals for "Jerkin' Crocus." Or at least it used to be difficult to say. Now, with corporations fighting for the right to line the pockets of the trivially gifted, finding an explanation for the craze for pointless facts seems pitifully easy. Want a little extra cash? Name the Brothers Gibb. Need a new stereo? List the Waterboys albums, in order. Still uncertain? Read on.

In the freezing drizzle of autumn Chicago, I'm trudging through another grad school day, force-feeding scraps of the Western literary canon to Northwestern sophomores and chafing against the mounting irrelevance of my own scholarly work ("Bad Heir Days: The Cosmetic Dimension of Inheritance in Victorian Fiction"). Tired and hazy, I suddenly encounter what looks like some futuristic archaeological dig. In a corner of the science building lobby, a table is littered with electronic equipment and empty quart cartons of Haagen-Dazs and surrounded by a handful of other tables at which students are seated, scribbling furiously. Women in white shirts circulate serenely around the perimeter, bestowing flyers and abstract smiles. Because my class doesn't begin for another ten minutes, and perhaps because I like ice cream, I decide to investigate -- by investigate I mean that I read the monstrous red-and-yellow banner that overhangs the group -- and learn that I have stumbled onto a preliminary audition for the inaugural Rolling Stone Rock & Roll Bowl. The flyers are short trivia quizzes, which will be used to narrow the field from thousands of hopeful students on 30 selected campuses to a few lucky winners. A game of skill, not of chance. No purchase necessary. Sponsored by Ford, Aiwa, and others. Fabulous prizes.

"Quiz?" says one of the women in white, taking a step toward me. "Sure," I say, taking a step toward her. At one of the writing tables, I move briskly through the 25 multiple-choice questions. What was the title of ZZ Top's first album? (ZZ Top's First Album.) Who is the lead singer of Soundgarden? (Chris Cornell.) Which famous rock star appeared on stage with Elton John in a 1974 performance? (John Lennon.) No sweat. I scrawl my name across the top, locate another woman in white, and hand in my quiz. Ten minutes later rock and roll is a fading memory, and I am listening to a lecture about the alienation effects of midperiod Brechtian dramaturgy.

Nearly a week later, the phone is ringing when I get home. By and large, such calls bring bad news, and I pick up the receiver fully prepared to decline whatever these people are selling. In fact, I'm already mentally rehearsing the part where I unprepossessingly inform the disabled veteran that my blindness would make it hard for me to get the most out of his long-life light bulbs when I realize that I'm not being threatened after all. "Hello," says a pleasantly bland female voice. "I'm calling from US Concepts, the public relations firm handling the Rolling Stone Rock & Roll Bowl, and I'm pleased to tell you that you're Northwestern's high scorer. As the campus winner, you now advance to the local finals, where you'll be competing against other area schools. All you need to do is select two more members to round out your team, and be on stage next Thursday night at Northwestern. Your opponents will be DePaul and Loyola. Thank you, congratulations, and rock and roll."

Rock and roll is essentially an energy, and as a result, many great bands exist in a state of constant instability, galvanized by the tensions between their principals. Think of Mick and Keith, Chuck D and Flavor Flav, Gunnar and Matthew Nelson. "Internal dissent," said Keith Moon, "is like an ever-replenishing battery, positive and negative charges productively conjoined, and I for one am thankful that my corner of the world has not surrendered to quiescence." For all these reasons, when it comes time for me to assemble my trivia team, I decide against selecting teammates who are merely echoes of myself. I vow to transcend the narrow boundaries of the English Department, to make use of the diverse university community. I pick two philosophy graduate students, Steve Weinstein and Will Getter. You see the difference? Literature grad student, philosophy grad student. One studies writers of fiction, the other writers of philosophy. Okay, maybe not. But you try working up a yin-yang miracle in a weekend. Steve is a wiry Wittgensteinian taking his second stab at grad school after a ten-year tenure as a Boston bar-circuit rock star. Will is a friend of Steve's, a specialist in the philosophy of humor who has recently embarked upon a side career as a standup comedian. Soft living has sentenced us to a certain kind of expertise, a certain ineffable toughness. And for some reason, I can't find anything in the rules that limits the competition to undergrads. It seems too good to be true A allowing people with our depth and breadth of experience to take advantage of callow children. Though I keep expecting a call from the rules committee, I'm optimistic about our prospects.

Midweek we schedule a practice dinner, something to oil the joints before we make our debut. It's difficult at first to downshift from academics; regurgitating rock facts isn't exactly like tracing metaphors of return in Ulysses or unpacking Nietzschean rhetoric. We start with simple drills (Who is Cynthia Plastercaster? How did Tim Buckley die? What was the Infidel Sharks' biggest hit?) and when we get sick of the shootaround, we trade our favorite apocrypha: Faith No More's Mike Patton, terrified of toilets, leaving onstage packages for Axl Rose before the Gunners' sets; Marvin Gaye's father, furious over an insurance letter, emptying a round into his son's angelic throat. As team captain, I reserve the right to tell the final story and I pick something inspirational, Sly Stone in Fort Myers in 1983, passed out on a hotel bed with a teenage trick, the coke a faint white dust upon the pillows when the police arrive. "Did you have drugs here?" asks the cop. Sly twists open one reddened eye, slurs, "Yeah, man, but they're all gone," then slips into sleep again.

We arrive early for the Chicago regional competition; we are, after all, the home team and we feel that we should take full advantage of our psychological edge. The stage decor is generic game show, three panel podiums fitted with buzzers and microphones, a raised platform nearby for the host, comedian and former MTV personality Mario Joyner. Before the partisan crowd of about 100, Mario introduces the three teams and explains the rules: nine categories of three questions each; ten-, twenty-, and thirty-point awards for correct responses; first team to ring in has five seconds to confer and answer; no penalties for wrong answers; a final question whose value depends on the teams' wagers, Final Jeopardy-fashion. The three highest-scoring regional winners will travel to Los Angeles for the national semifinals; the top two squads from that round will move on to Daytona Beach for the finals, scheduled amid spring break. The grand prize: a brand new Ford Mustang apiece. "Are you ready?" asks Joyner. All nine of us nod in unison.

"This punk singer," says Mario, "began her career as a poet and is perhaps best known for her cover of Van Morrison's 'Glo--My finger, hovering over the buzzer, drops like an anvil. Our panel light glares white. "Northwestern," pipes Mario, and we answer "Patti Smith." Ten points appear on the electronic scoreboard in front of our podium, and we never look back. DePaul seems to have cornered the market on questions about the Dead, and Loyola is quicker on the trigger when it comes to bubblegum A Kylie Minogue? Please. Even trivia has its limits A but everything else is in our jurisdiction. Let the record show that we were good sports, gracious competitors, not prone to grandstanding. Let the record also show that we pounded the opposition as flat as LPs. When Mario needles us for phrasing our answers in the form of a question A "This isn't Jeopardy," he says disparagingly A Will calls him "Alex," and the audience laughs approvingly. By the time the final question rolls around, we're undisputed local champs. The Northwestern Daily, in a stirring show of school spirit, misspells my name.

About a week after the competition, while we're waiting to see if our score qualifies us for Los Angeles, I get a wakeup call in the form of a UPS package. It's drab-brown on the outside, a little beaten at the corners, but it's the inside that really intrigues me. There, among wadded newspaper and Styrofoam peanuts, is my team's round-one booty A three Aiwa personal cassette players, coupons for eighteen free pints of H„agen-Dazs and three one-year subscriptions to Rolling Stone, three denim jackets, each with an embroidered Rock & Roll Bowl patch spread across the back. For the first time the real face of the competition moves into view: I'm not just a winner, I'm a prizewinner, and the difference is material. I can listen to tapes on my new walkman (estimated retail value $49.95) while I enjoy my twelve months of glossy rock coverage (estimated retail value $30) and upholster my arteries with Cookie Dough Dynamo (estimated retail value $15). I can gaze admiringly at my new jacket (estimated retail value $59.95) before I consign it forever to the cheap seats of my closet.

I call Will and Steve to tell them the good news, but they're uneasy at first, philosophically uncomfortable about taking handouts from big business. I try to bring them to their senses by reading aloud from the corporate publicity materials. "Ford, whose cars and trucks are at the forefront of the youth market, has five of the top ten best-selling vehicle lines.... Aiwa, America, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of superior quality home and entertainment systems.... MBNA America is the nation's second-largest lender through bank credit cards, with $12.4 billion in managed loans.... H„agen-Dazs is the only worldwide brand of superpremium frozen desserts and novelties...." Will jumps on board as soon as I mention the "youth market," but Steve proves a harder nut to crack, holding out all the way through "second-largest lender" and "managed loans." Only when tempted with "superpremium frozen desserts and novelties" does he finally capitulate. "Okay, okay!" he cries. "Bring on the prizes!" I feel a twinge of guilt at having undone his idealism, but only a twinge. It's like the man said: Multibillion-dollar corporations don't compromise people; people compromise people.

Before we've had time to fully absorb our fortune, we get more good news. Our runaway regional victory has earned us a trip to the semifinals in Los Angeles (estimated retail value $800), where the field of three teams will be trimmed to two. After that, all that separates us from the gleaming form of a new Ford Mustang (estimated retail value $15,000) is a good showing during spring break in Daytona Beach. In our initial giddiness, we study around the clock, drilling deeper into the rock mother lode than good sense requires A Hawkwind, T'Pau, Sparky Reddick and the Roadmasters. Smokey Robinson's "First I Look at the Purse" takes on the feel of a manifesto.

In any competition, you want to size up the opposition, and there is plenty of opportunity for that the first night in Los Angeles. We're in Beverly Hills, actually, at the Hotel Sofitel Ma Maison, a moderately expensive French establishment where the reservation agents sport authentic accents and the front desk distributes complimentary baguettes each morning. We're staying here for that certain ineffable Continental essence A je ne sais quoi, as it were A and also because of the proximity of the Hard Rock Cafe, the site of the big event. Shortly after we arrive at the hotel, we meet Jami Kelmenson, the US Concepts staffer who is handling Left Coast operations. She introduces us to the rest of the corporate team A representatives of Rolling Stone and Ford, among others A and also to our opponents, San Jose State and Cleveland State. While the San Jose State team (Dawn, Walter, and Thomas) seems like a nice enough group, the Cleveland team worries us slightly. The two female members are eerily silent, and then there's the matter of the mythical status of the team captain's speedy buzzer finger. A number of the contest organizers mention it in admiring tones, and more than twice it's referred to simply as "The Finger." Since we're graduate students, arch tourists in the land of undergrads, we try to keep level heads, but we're secretly shaken. That night in a diner, Will and I talk strategy. Does it make any sense to try for first place, or should we just play to stay out of the cellar? In a close match, should we bet our whole nest egg on the final question? Should we have someone "pay a visit" to The Finger? Should we wear black for the dear-departed Harry Nilsson?

All day Friday and Saturday, while I am touring Los Angeles with my brother Aaron and his girlfriend Catherine, I am visited by a growing sense of dread. Songs on the radio are suddenly, tragically unfamiliar, and at lunch I seize up when I can't remember who sang "Seasons in the Sun." By the time we get to the Hard Rock Cafe, the jitters are Richter-like, and even the glorious chorus of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Hey Tonight," which spills from the house speakers, is nothing but a threat. After marveling at the rock paraphernalia on display A Stephen Stills's car keys, Joey Ramone's comb (almost new!) A Steve and I stare blankly at a black leather jacket worn by Bob Dylan and Kinky Friedman. "I know Kinky, sure," says Steve, "but who's the other guy again?" My friend Harold, who lives in San Diego, has come north for the weekend, and he and his wife Angie sit with Aaron and Catherine at a table front and center. More than twice, I drop by to have them butter me up; in tense times, you can never overestimate the therapeutic value of flattery on demand.

Installed on stage after Mario's introductions, we face the jam-packed restaurant and feel our poise returning. We're grad students, we remind ourselves. We've seen the world. We've tasted adversity. We've outgrown the costliest car insurance brackets. We're competing against greenhorns. How can we lose? After good-luck handshakes with San Jose State and wary glances at The Finger, we crack our knuckles, limber up our rock and roll souls, and set a course for Daytona.

As part of ongoing research into the lives of our sea-dwelling pals, marine biologists have conducted experiments that compare the reflexes of baby squid and adult squid. Here is a brief summary of the results: The babies blazed through their time trials, twitching at the speed of thought. The adults, on the other hand, sat there stumped, blinking their big wide eyes. I mention this study because it may help to explain the stunning early dominance of Cleveland State, the way The Finger has us under his thumb. We're being crushed, beaten worse than the crowd at Altamont, and when the digital lightning does lag, San Jose State picks up the slack. It isn't that we don't know the answers, only that we can't get in the game. "Butterfly, Doodlebug, and Ladybug make up this hip-hop trio," says Mario. "Name the band that released the album Pork Soda. This former Go-Go's guitarist reached the Top 10 only once as a solo artist, with the song 'Rush Hour' off the album Fur." We pound on the buzzer to no avail and stare at the crowd as if we are visiting from another planet. Midway through the round, with the score 140-120-0 (we're the zero), we catch Cleveland State on a technicality: To a question about the Public Image Ltd. frontman, they answer Rotten when they should have said Lydon. Though the judges subtract the points, they won't award them to us. In fact, Mario mocks us openly for our desperation, and though we manage to ring in for a twenty-pointer A "This folk musician translated or extended many songs for other performers, including 'If I Had a Hammer,' 'Guantanamera,' and 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone' (Pete Seeger, for Pete's sake) A we're all but mathematically eliminated from contention. Members of the audience are writhing in empathetic embarrassment, and even my table of faithful fans has stopped cheering. I drift into a private fantasy in which our inevitable defeat is rendered palatable by high production values, fancy Dutch-slant camerawork, and a hipper-than-thou soundtrack. On the cerebral stage, our humiliating performance is shrouded in azure fog, and we drop out of sight with artsy grace, chaperoned by Smashing Pumpkins's "Spaceboy."

While I'm filling my brainpan with denial, Steve and Will are going about the difficult business of salvaging the round. They're whirling like twin dervishes, chipping away at the deficit and capitalizing on The Finger's smallest errors. What long-lasting British band was named after the eighteenth-century inventor of the seed drill? Will knows. How do you spell Lynyrd Skynyrd? Steve knows. Who was on the cover of the first Rolling Stone? Both Will and Steve know. When I regain my senses, we're nearing triple digits and then we sweep a category and climb into a tie for second. With our resurrection fueled by the now-delirious crowd A everybody loves to see the kicked dog bite back A we go on hitting with our rhythm sticks, refusing to stop until we have grabbed every remaining point on the board. Amazingly, we do just that; the questions, which seem to be tending toward Sixties rock, favor our geriatric preferences. When the round ends, our total tops out at 210. San Jose holds down second place with 190, and Cleveland State stands stalled at 140. A difficult final audio question A an early Simple Minds atrocity that's unrecognizable in the noisy restaurant A stumps all three teams and nails down the single greatest comeback in the history of rock and roll. Harold and Aaron throw up Vs for victory. Roadies stream from the wings to put The Finger in a splint. The Hard Rock staffers call for a taxidermist to fix us where we stand.

Can you call a dream a dream if you're not asleep? This becomes a pressing question in the weeks after Los Angeles. Despite persistent insomnia, I am haunted by a vision of a cavernous concrete room furnished with a single bare bulb and a chipped pay telephone. Whenever the phone rings, I pick it up A I have to pick it up, it's one of those dreams A and the placid female voice from US Concepts congratulates me on my victory on the written quiz, after which she recites a stream of perversely inaccurate rock minutiae. "T. Rex's 'Rip-Off,'" she says, "is the national anthem of Guatemala. Luther Vandross and Prince are first cousins. Cher is a man." Well, most of it is inaccurate. At any rate, while I try to absorb these facts, I am besieged by elevator music, retoolings of punk and power-pop classics. If you can imagine the Sex Pistols's "Bodies" hijacked by Muzak, you'll understand the sickening terror this experience inspires. Will and Steve claim they're not having this dream, but I know they're just scared to come clean. Forgotten pop singers hide under my bed, rattling their single hits, itching to cut my throat. I try to count sheep and get Goat's Head Soup instead.

The first afternoon in Daytona Beach, Will and Steve and I are leaving the Marriott to grab an early dinner, trying to stay loose in the face of the mounting pressure and spring break, which is going full-bore. As our elevator doors open at ground level, we are treated to a fantasy that puts my sleep-deprived hallucinations to shame. Dozens, and maybe even hundreds, of beautiful women A scantily dressed in ribbon bikinis, thigh-teasing sundresses, invisible sarongs A wander through the lobby, staring at one another coolly, rubbing elbows with ordinary hotel guests. It's the Miss Hawaiian Tropic International pageant, a beauty content sponsored by the famous suntan lotion manufacturer. The hotel is putting up all 88 contestants, as well as twenty-odd "celebrity" judges culled from the sports world (Steve Garvey, Jim Kelly, Jerry Tarkanian), the entertainment industry (Gilbert Gottfried, Mickey Dolenz, Lorenzo Llamas), and the very, very bottom of the barrel (Don Swayze? Bo Svenson? Dan Hagerty?). When Steve spots Jim Kelly, we consider introducing ourselves and asking his advice on winning the big game, but instead, we just loiter in the blank spaces of the lobby's crossword and eye the taut, tanned clues. One Miss Uruguay (blonde) adjusts the sash of the other (brunette). Miss Austria and Miss Germany rescue a dying bird from the sundeck. A tall, dark-skinned contestant saunters sashless through the crowd in a tiny dress the color of tumescent flesh; never have so many owed so much to so fuchsia. According to a posted schedule, the pageant will be held the following afternoon, and in the evening the hotel sports bar will honor the victors with a party. We take this as an omen and vow to attend the celebration.

On the way to dinner, we check out the Howard Johnson ballroom where the contest will be held and then we zigzag under the main pier. In the afternoon glare, the stanchions of the boardwalk cast shadows in the shallows; farther out, where the water clouds to green, the sun gems the cap of every wave. All around us, French-cut suits and thongs command the beaches; the average tan, like the average body, is a beautiful distortion. We spend the evening filling our eyes with oiled curves and searching for the perfect jukebox A something where Ian Hunter slow-dances with Teena Marie and Hank Williams coughs himself to sleep. At about eleven we return to the Marriott patio bar, where a lone guitarist wows the crowd with good-timey acoustic stylings, lots of Buffett and Eagles, Jackson Browne and bland blues. Half-drunk and wholly disrespectful, we take up a strategic position and begin to heckle the performer, whom Steve has dubbed Tony the Troubadour (He's not grrrreat!). "'Cold Sweat!'" we yell. "'96 Tears!'" Tony ignores us, and soon we're talking only to ourselves, imagining limp folk covers of "Tattooed Love Boys," "When Doves Cry," "Can I Get a Witness." At the stroke of midnight, Sky Saxon's spirit cropdusts the plaza, howling "Talkin' Barnett Newman Blues" at the top of his spectral lungs.

The next day is the big day, the day of the competition, and I'm up so early I wonder if I've slept at all. The cloudy sky has cleared the beach, and we spend most of the morning in shops and bars, trying to relax and pretending to be interested in the charming beachfront kickshaws A key chains, T-shirts, shrunken heads wearing "Blow Me" hats. In the afternoon the resurgent sun coaxes us out to the Hawaiian Tropic pageant, where company founder Ron Rice is delivering a rambling, insincere speech about the special nature of the contest, how beauty is more than skin deep, how his judges have been instructed to appreciate character and talent as well as clock-stopping hardbodies. "Just yesterday, in fact," Rice proclaims in a wobbly tone that suggests the ravages of sunstroke, "we gave each girl two crayons and a piece of paper, and then we let them go." One of the contestants parades her ample art before the crowd, and a half-dozen guys to our left voice their aesthetic disapproval by screaming racial slurs at the top of their lungs. To call Daytona Beach misogynist is like referring to Charles Manson as eccentric or the ocean as moist. I will say this for the place, though: If you want to reaffirm your faith in humanity, go somewhere else.

In the wake of the pageant, good cheer is difficult to restore, and all afternoon we're subdued. We shy away from the thonged throngs decanting gallons of beer into the Atlantic sand, refuse to meet the eyes of hungry cruising girls, decline to sign a petition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the phrase "Headlights on for safety!" Even a classic beach culture-clash A a charged exchange between a Suzuki Samurai with side-mounted Super Soakers and a trio of bony greasers leaning against an old convertible A can't buoy our spirits. Then we see it, the Howard Johnson logo making orange noises in the early evening sky. "It's time," says Steve.

At the door to the Howard Johnson ballroom, the contest organizers have stationed two guards to check for alcoholic beverages, but it looks like they're letting plenty through A pocket flasks, hidden splits, entire cases of beer jammed into camping packs. The categories are already posted, and after Will and Steve and I say our hellos to San Jose State and Mario, as well as assorted corporate reps, we huddle in a corner and generate possible answers for "World Music," "Duos and Trios," "Benefits and Charities," "Hair." The warmups and door prizes seem to drag on forever, and when we finally take the stage, we're exhausted from anxiety.

The first question -- Where is Technotronic's Felly from? -- stumps both teams, but we stay with the "World Music" category and answer the second question (This soloist first used African influences for his tribute single "Biko") and then the third (What South African vocal group backed Paul Simon on his Graceland album?). We know our strength lies in streaks and besides, we've beaten these guys before. Name the MTV News anchorman who...BUZZ...Kurt Loder! This trio featured Noel...BUZZ...The Jimi Hendrix Experience! What rock promoter ran the FillmABUZZ...Bill Graham! Ten minutes later, we're up by nearly 200 points, and San Jose State is still sitting at the starting line.

Slowly they begin to climb out of goose-egg hell, and for a moment we're paralyzed A the last thing we want now is to relive L.A. from the other side. This time, though, there's no stunning comeback in the cards, and we squash their rally with another category sweep, and another. Our anxiety is behind us, the 400-plus crowd is behind us, and San Jose State is way behind us.

We know that if we more than double their score, the final bet will be irrelevant, and as we near the end of the round, this becomes a real possibility. The last six questions split evenly, and then the six of us sit tight for confirmation of the point totals. Northwestern 330, San Jose State 160. A drunken bleat of "Bet zero!" rises from the recesses of the room. We comply, name the final song anyway (Big Audio Dynamite II's "Rush"), and then stand there calm as cans while Mario announces the consolation prizes. Then he details the grand-prize haul. We'll be receiving not only the car, but also an Aiwa stereo and a year's supply of H„agen-Dazs. Thankfully, we won't be getting another denim jacket. Still dazed, we're escorted from the building to do some promo spots, which consist mostly of sitting in a Mustang and mustering mannequin smiles. Any impulses we have toward sarcasm or cynicism are swept away in the windfall; goofily magnanimous, we even embrace Daytona.

On the way back down the beach, we're recognized more than once ("There's the rock and roll guys!") and though we stop in at a few clubs for preparatory drinking and flirting, our real destination is the Hawaiian Tropic afterparty. In the Marriott sports bar, it's business as usual, unctuous fiftysomething entrepreneurs crowding pageant contestants like slimy tongues encircling cuspids. At the bar, Will and I speak to Miss Germany, who informs us that she is "fun" and "happy" as she clutches a sheaf of business cards she has collected from admirers. Miss Uruguay (blonde) sits in silence, nursing some private project, while Miss Uruguay (brunette) works the floor. One of the Miss Swedens, impossibly beautiful in a black baseball cap and incandescent smile, pencils her room number onto countless napkins. Protected by the glow of our victory A for those first few hours, it feels like invincibility A we stay rooted to the bar long into the night, talking, drinking, staring, every once in a while trading jokes with a woman sashed by one country or another. Tracey Wood, one of the Miss Canadas and our counterpart in triumph, never stops by to say hello.

At about 2:00 a.m. there's a wet T-shirt contest, bar employees dutifully drenching the contestants with ice water and standing back as they shake their moneymakers for the crowd. Two of the participants are Hawaiian Tropic also-rans, but many are amateurs, high school or college students working for the $100 prize. While the women grind and jiggle, the thumping sounds of C+C Music Factory falsify a party, and most of the spectators hoot with abandon. Even the few quiet ones A Will and Steve and I are included in this elite group A look on as if we are appraising a cutlet. As they leave the floor, many of the women are shivering, and one seems to be crying, but it is difficult to tell, in part because she seems to have no face at all, only long pale arms and legs, and the dark knots of her nipples showing through soaked cotton.

As the crowd breathlessly awaits a winner A no doubt it will be the Belgian girl who took her pants down to midthigh and slipped a finger inside her sheer white briefs A we slink outside to the patio, where we cover for our excitement and our shame with deliberately naive talk about our winnings. We all are going to sell the Mustangs, we decide, convert the cars to cash and chase our dreams. Will has a new computer lined up, maybe a move to California. Steve plans to travel, live the high life for a while. And me? I'm going to produce a live album for Tony the Troubador. I'm going to call in an air strike as I leave Daytona Beach. I'm going to chronicle this unlikely series of events for a few hundred extra bucks and then I'm going to sleep for weeks.


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