It was an unexpected honor, after having lived back in Silver City for only a year, to be asked to serve as one of the judges for our annual Christmas Parade. The panel, I was informed, would consist solely of local media people, which I guess I was, though, truth be told, given my inclination toward living both off and below the radar in Gila Country, I was a bit surprised that the judge-selection folks even knew of my existence. Sure, we distribute Mountain Gazettes hereabouts, but not many, and only in a few locations.
Still, I answered in the affirmative, telling the gentleman who had contacted me that I was a perfect choice, not only because of my media connections but also because I had considerable experience serving as an events judge. Therefore, I explained, I was well versed in how to surreptitiously pocket bribes without arousing any suspicion on the part of any parade participants who did not have the foresight to lubricate my decision-making process, or, for that matter, those whose attempts to sway my easily sway-able scoring were not up to satisfactory snuff. The man giggled a kind of nervous giggle I have heard many times in my life, a giggle that said, essentially, “I wonder what I just got myself into here dealing with the likes of Fayhee.”
It was the sort of nervous giggle I heard from the man I hired to be the accountant for the Mountain Gazette when we first relaunched the magazine in 2000 when I asked, before we had even properly introduced ourselves, if he (a retired IRS employee, I should point out) charged extra for bribing the IRS.
The first summer I lived in Summit County, Colorado, I was asked to be a judge for Frisco’s Independence Day parade, which is a major part of one of the biggest Fourth of July festivals in the Rockies. I was humbled, believing that such an invite was an indication that, after less than a year of local residency, I had achieved insider status. I did not learn till later that I was asked as a last resort, only because the first 43 people said ixnay.
Still, being ushered to my seat on the judging stand, which bore a striking resemblance to an elevated, and well-used, bingo table, was cause for a certain amount of chest puffing on my part. And all the more so because, shortly after having been asked to be a judge, my inner diva requested — nay: demanded — that a quantity of beer sufficient to meet the rigorous demands of parade judging be made available to my august personage right there on the well-used bingo table. And not just any beer: Fat Tire, thank-you very much. And, much to my surprise and delight, when I ascended my lofty perch, there, right behind my chair, was not just Fat Tire beer, but an entire washtub filled to brimming with bottles of Fat Tire immersed in a sea of ice.
Even better, since the other judges seemed disinclined to partake, that tub of cerveza was mine, all mine!
And even better than that: The whole week before, I had been running stories in the Summit Up section of the Summit Daily News, for which I then worked, letting everyone know in unambiguous terms that I planned to be a judge very open to bribery. Now, I understand that, in many places, admitting in public to one’s proclivity toward overt corruption — especially in the context of something as holy as a Fourth of July parade — would likely have been received in a whole bunch of different ways, all of them negative. But in Frisco, such an admission was greeted with a veritable parade of folks apparently perfectly comfortable with the idea of bribing a parade judge. Schwag as diverse as boxes of cookies, cases of beer and baggies of weed streamed into my office all week, Then, at the parade itself, I could not keep track of the goodies being proffered. I felt like a low-rent Roman emperor getting trunks of tribute laid at my feet.
It will come as no surprise to learn that I had a truly great time, though, sadly, by the time the parade ended, I was scarcely able to stand, much less remember who had bribed me with what for what.
A couple years after that, I was invited to be a judge for Copper Mountain Ski Resort’s Eenie Weenie Bikini Contest, an annual rite of spring that fell victim to the ski industry’s lamentable devolution toward “family-friendliness.” Once again, I made what I thought was a very reasonable request for on-site beverages, and, once again, I let everyone know that my middle name forthwith was “Venal.”
This go-round I was given movie tickets, a couple of casino packages, some ski gear and boxes of cookies, cases of beer and baggies of weed. A cooler filled to brimming with beer awaited me in the booth, which I shared with three other judges, all of whom were players for the Denver Broncos. One was a kicker (it might have been Rich Karlis) and the other two were back-up linebacker/special-teams types whose names I did not recognize (my sisters-in-law, die-hard Broncos fans since their pre-natal days, on the other hand, did recognize those names, and they were near-bouts mortified to learn that, since, I was the only one imbibing in the booth, I became almost stunningly inebriated in the presence of royalty). (The reason there were three Broncos in the booth with me (or, better stated, I was in the booth with them) was that the Eenie Weenie Bikini Contest was part of a larger event that John Elway had something to do with. (Though he owned a second home in Summit County for many years, that day marked the only time I ever saw Saint John in person).)
By the time that Eenie Weenie Bikini Contest winners were crowned (they bore a striking, if not coincidental, resemblance to the people who had laid the best bribery packages on me), I was starting to think about becoming a professional event judge.
Couple years later, I was asked by people who obviously were not students of recent local history to be a judge for Frisco’s annual Christmas Lighting Contest. This go-round, I did not even have to mention my need for at-hand liquid refreshment. Nor did I have to advertise my corruptible nature. The bribes started streaming into the Summit Daily’s office in almost stunning profusion. Matter of fact, there was enough in the way of bribes that I was able to re-gift much of the tribute, thus saving on Christmas season expenditures.
This was great!
There were three other judges and one town employee crammed into a car with a case of beer, which no one beside me was drinking. The way this contest worked was that home- and business owners entered themselves in advance, and we drove around visiting all the addresses, awarding points in several categories that now escape me. (They likely escaped me then and there as well.) It might have been the nippiness of the season, but I found myself consuming what very well might have been an inordinate quantity of beer. That not-exactly-stunning indiscretion caused me to have to request an abrupt pit stop. Sadly, we were right then in the middle of the kind of new high-class subdivision that, even before it is fully complete, spells sociological doom for one’s heretofore humble hamlet. The mortified driver pulled over and I hopped out of the car and relieved myself right in front of a gaudy residence that had entered itself into our Christmas Light contest with a strategy apparently based on the philosophy of “more is better.” This was a house lit up with holiday illumination to the degree that astronauts orbiting in the space station might look down toward Earth and wonder if there was not perhaps a nuclear power plant right then melting down in the midst of the majestic Rockies.
That house produced enough in the way of lumens that the homeowner, looking out the front window to investigate the vehicle idling in the street, was easily able to discern a man urinating in the snow bank. There was of course no way that homeowner could have known that the urinating man was, of all things, one of the judges of the contest she had obviously worked so hard to win. Had she known that, perhaps she would have moved to a more civilized town. But she did not know, and, therefore, she did the only thing people who live in those kinds of subdivisions know how to do: she called the police. (The other thing she did not know was that the urinator-in-question was a member of the local Police Citizens’ Advisory Committee.)
So, before we even get to the next lighted house on our list, we get pulled by one of Frisco’s finest, responding to a complaint of someone draining in one of the most well-coifed neighborhoods between Vail and Evergreen.
The young cop was somewhat taken aback to see a town employee at the wheel, sitting next to what remained of a case of beer, with empties rolling unencumbered around on the floor, with a member of the police committee — who, it turned out, was the culprit — in the back seat. The look on his face bespoke a heartfelt desire to be anywhere else on the planet. We were sent upon our merry way without so much as a finger-wagging.
This much I can tell you: The woman who called the cops on us (well, on me) did NOT win the Christmas Lighting Contest.
Not long after, I moved back down to Gila Country, where I was asked to continue my event-judging career. (Word of my judging acumen had obviously preceded me.) Since I was new to town, I showed up at the appointed time carrying with me two six packs of New Belgium’s finest amber ale, figuring it would be tacky of me to make any demands on the parade organizers until they got to know me a bit better. When my fellow judges saw the beer, they arched backwards so significantly I thought they were going to tumble ass-over-teakettle off the dais. Their eyes were wide and their mouths agape. And I’m standing there smacking myself in the forehead, thinking, “Of course! This is New Mexico! I should have bought tequila!”
I apologized profusely for my oversight and said that, since there was plenty of time before the parade commenced, I would be happy to run over to the Food Basket for some Patron. That’s when the parade organizer ran up to me so panicked, I thought he was going to choke on his tongue. “You … you … you … can’t have beer here!” he gasped, much the same way, I suspect, a priest would talk to the devil during an exorcism.
With much in the way of befuddlement, I returned those two six packs to my vehicle. I poured a beer into a to-go coffee mug and returned to the dais. My fellow judges scooted their chairs as far away from me as they could without falling off onto the sidewalk.
It was a chilly night. Finally, one of my fellow judges overcame her obvious aversion to my very existence and asked if she could have a sip of my coffee to warm up a bit. “Uh, it’s not exactly coffee,” I responded, sheepishly. She recoiled.
Halfway through the parade, trying to thaw the ice, I said, “So, what kinds of bribes do you folks usually get from parade contestants?” I could have shit my pants and received a more cordial reaction. I was shunned. I was not even invited to attend the ballot-counting gathering after the parade, though I showed up anyhow.
“We’re concerned that you might have accepted some bribes,” I was told, as the ballots were slid away from me.
And I’m standing there thinking, “Well, I guess my event-judging career is now over.”
Which is an irony, since this was the only event I had ever judged where I did not accept bribes and where I was pretty much sober.
That experience might rise to the level of irony.