(For those of you who know me personally, this is a unabridged version of a published blog from earlier this year)
My friend Corinne asked if I was doing anything Saturday night and if I had a cocktail dress. I said I wasn’t doing anything and did, indeed, have a cocktail dress. That is all I knew when I pulled up to her apartment, carsick and hot from traffic, Saturday afternoon. She was in a stunning, baby blue, one strap evening gown. Almost immediately, I felt inadequate. “I got this at the Ross Dress for Less in the Junior’s section,” I said.
“Leave it, your boobs look great,” she said.
It only took 20 minutes or so before we drove up to the Beverly Hilton valet. “You would tell me if I was underdressed, right?” I asked.
“Yes, and tell me if my extensions come out,” she said.
We walked into the hotel and mixed into a small pool of people wearing various gowns and dresses, mostly with an Old Hollywood feeling to it. Sequins. Mid-thigh length. Accentuated shoulders. Not a lot of bold colors. Not a lot of Ross Dress for Less.
We collected our passes and waited outside the doors to the open bar until they slowly opened. Corinne and I were among the first at the bar. We both ordered Heinekens and stood there for an awkward second or two. There was a slideshow with various animal pictures rotating at a rather pleasant speed on the wall and monitors. “I could just stand here, sip my beer and look at animal pictures,” I said.
Instead, we headed over to the red carpet. Beatrice, the Frenchie from “Modern Family”, was walking down the red carpet. My cheeks burned, my heart thumped and I did everything possible to keep from crawling down on the red carpet and cornering Beatrice in front of the photographers. There were other human guests on the red carpet; Pauley Perrette of NCIS and Carrie Ann Inaba, a judge on Dancing with the Stars and Moby.
Wendie Malick of “Just Shoot Me” walked up and around our second or third drink, Corinne approached her and said, “I loved you on ‘News Radio’.”
“Thank you,” Wendie said, “but I was never on News Radio.” Then she walked into the VIP room.
“Crap,” Corinne said, “I just messed up with Wendie Malick.”
“I am sure she gets it all the time,” I said, turning my attention back to the red carpet. Leo, a German Shepherd, was just about to walk the red carpet with two uniformed police officers. Rocky, a long-haired jack russell, was in his olive-green sweater. I was patiently allowed to pet all three dogs featured on the red carpet. I turned to a man I never met before, sipping a drink with his girlfriend, and said, “There is like a surge of dopamine released from my brain whenever I see dogs. It clouds my mind. It is like taking ecstasy at Disneyland.”
He paused over his drink and wrinkled his brow, unsure of what to make of me.
“Where are you from?” Corinne asked.
“Arizona,” he said.
“Ah, they just passed a law preventing transgenders from using restrooms that don’t correspond with their gender at birth … but I mean, how can you enforce that?” I asked.
“You can’t,” he said, “Women use the men’s room all the time when the line is too long.”
“I know I do,” Corinne said.
“Yup, standing at a urinal before, I have looked side to side and have seen women using the urinals next to me,” he said. “Where are you from?”
“She is from Holland,” I said, volunteering my friend into the line of questioning.
“Where is that?” he said.
“Ok,” he said, “Germany?”
“You need to consult a globe, sir,” I said.
“In that general area,” Corinne softened.
We came back through to the open bar and I decided to switch over to Chardonnay. Usually I do better pacing myself with beer, but once I saw a glass of white wine, my jaw tightened and my mouth grew dry.
We perused the silent auction. There was jewelry, travel packages (one trip to South America starting at $2300), Taylor Swift concert tickets, paintings (some by artists, some by animals), a motorcycle … pretty much anything you can imagine starting well above what I could afford. The $15 folded in my clutch had to last me another week, so I sadly strolled by one beautiful, shiny item after another.
We were seated at tables for dinner and served a salad for an opening course, and then a steak-like patty with a side of vegetables and a purple carrot, I have since discovered is called ‘Purple Haze’ in organic gardening circles. The food was delicious, the “meat” patty crumbled in my mouth, warm in a light gravy. My server was named Carlos.
“Carlos,” I asked, “What is this delightful thing here? Vegan?”
“Yes, everything is vegan,” he said, in broken English.
“And this meat-like thing, what is it called?”
“Veggie. Everything veggies,” he said.
“Yes, but is there a name?”
“Veggie,” he said again.
“Ok, I guess it’s called Veggie,” I said to the others.
Dinner table conversation at places like this are tricky. The natural theme that connects us all is our care and compassion for animals, but discussing inhumane treatment of animals can turn a “Veggie” into an unpredictable rip current of alcohol, gravy and stomach acid.
“Did you see that video of the man shooting the horse point blank? Some kind of message to animal activists?”
“No, but did you hear about what happened in La Jolla?”
“Yeah, I would like to kick her in the stomach … kicking seals … get me in a room with her so she can see how it feels ..”
“What happened with the horse?”
“He shot it, point blank. Killed it. It is on YouTube.”
The man at our table in a black velvet newsboy cap put down his silverware and thrust both hands up in the air as if surrendering. “No more,” he said, “I can’t hear anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “We’ll stop. Let’s talk purple carrot. How is that purple carrot?”
He softened and lifted his knife and spoon again, “It is like a mix of red peppers and yellow peppers. I really like it.”
After the dessert, which was pure chocolate deliciousness, the lights were dimmed and the awards show began. Beatrice came out to present the Sid Caesar award, which showcases comedy. “Futurama”, “The New Normal” and “The Colbert Report” were all nominated, and Stephen Colbert won his third award in a row for a spot on Steve King and dogfighting. That was about the time the bottle of white wine was drained and the laughter stopped. The awards to follow were all very much about exposing the torture and exploitation of animals or promoting the rehabilitation of those animals.
This was around the time I switched to the bottle of red because it was the only alcohol in sight and I needed to fuzz out the blood and pain in the clips from the nominees.
Nominated for best TV Documentary:
“Ivory Wars” from the Discovery Channel
“One Nation Under Dogs” from HBO
“Street Dogs of South Central” from Animal Planet
TV News Magazine
“Deadly Pets” on 20/20 from ABC
“The Race to Save The Tortoise “on 60 Minutes from CBS
“Cockfighting Investigation” on Inside Edition on syndication.
“The Ugly Truth Behind High Stepping Horses” on Nightline from ABC.
“At What Cost” Orangutans facing extinction in Indonesia by Brian Williams on NBC
“Downer Cows” by Diane Sawyer
“Ivory Poaching” by Scott Pelley
“Hurricane Sandy: Protecting Our Pets” on NBC Nightly News
“Saving the Discarded Dogs” by FOX 31 News at 9 in Denver
“Bunny Trafficking” on KNBC 4 News
“Busted in Oklahoma” on TV 19 Action news (exposing the abuse in an exotic animal park)
As each presenter announced the nominees in each category, the lights dimmed, a video clip started and the booming audio of voices from the clip echoed across the ballroom. Often, I would cover my face with my hands, occasionally peeking through my fingers to see an animal struck, yanked on, dragged or murdered. I could hear the others at my table weeping with the occasional, “Oh My God” whispered over the silenced clatter of glasses and plates. Then I felt the warm water ooze from eyes and through my fingers. I heard myself weep into my palms, and slowly lost my breath. You spend all year avoiding video and pictures of war, dog fighting, poaching, famine and whatever other atrocity against our world out there in faraway places, or even next door. You know it is there. You plop money in a jar when asked. You hand a banana to a man begging on the side of the freeway ramp. You rescued your dogs. You volunteered at that event or even trained for that marathon. You do what you can to keep your mind from rattling, from screaming, from bleeding out into your eyes and mouth in hopelessness and despair without actually looking the beast in the eye.
In that ballroom, on Saturday night, nothing was there to protect us.
“I am going to the bathroom,” Corinne said. I joined her and we tinkled, blew our noses and dabbed at our make-up with other women hiding from the ugly reality of our world in a posh bathroom. The truth is without the televised exposure, without the audio and video capturing one cruel moment after the next, no one would be shamed, no one would face consequences, and nothing would change.
With our dresses pulled back in place, our eyeliner and mascara cleaned up and the paper towels tossed aside, we walked back into the dark ballroom to bear witness again.
“Hey … hey,” Corinne whispered to me, “Tell me that isn’t a real fur on the back of her chair.”
A woman at the table in front of us had a black, fur coat draped over the back of her chair.
“It has to be faux. This is the Humane Society,” I said.
“Not necessarily. At The Hero Dog Awards a woman had a real fur.”
“No way …” I said, staring at the woman’s fur. Corinne took a picture of it on her phone. We all needed someone to blame. The poachers weren’t there that night at the hotel. The exotic animal trainer who shoves and kicks his animals wasn’t there. The countless medical laboratories and cosmetics companies who ruthlessly test on live animals were home or at work. We needed a common enemy to extinguish that annoying feeling that we were helpless to the monster. So, this woman, in her late 50s or early 60s, sat at the table, absorbing tear stained glares from the tables around her.
“Go ask her if it is real,” Corinne prodded.
I finished the bottle of red. “Ok,” I said. “I am gonna do it.”
When the awards show wrapped and the house lights rose again, everyone popped out of their seats and chatter filled the room. I walked over to the woman. “Excuse me, may I ask where you got a fur that looks so real?”
“Oh, it is fake. I assure you it is fake. I would never bring a real fur to something like this,” she said. Does that mean she has a real one at home? Maybe not. Keep calm.
“Oh, my friend and I were just admiring it and I told her there is no way it could be real.”
“Of course not!” she said, almost indignant. Then she peeled the tag on the inside of the coat over. It read “100% faux”. I nodded, offered another compliment and then slinked away, a little disappointed.
We all wanted to hunt down someone with our torches, our pail of hot tar and bag of feathers. We wanted to right what had been wronged. We wanted someone to pay for the lives that were taxed, sold and killed. All the frustration, all the grieving and shock, all the heartbreak had to go somewhere, onto someone …. but not because of a fur coat at an Award’s Benefit. That isn’t the answer.
We need to talk about it, write about it. We need to listen and learn. We need to educate ourselves and each other.
We can show the world animal activists aren’t a group of emotional basket cases who lack leadership, logic and organization. We need to stand strong, next to each other. Assume more discipline. Grow more tolerant. And love … love the world, love the animals and love each other. Only then can the world really become resilient and brave enough to face the beast.We will never kill it, but we can fight.