Smile big, smile often, smile fabulous.
Those are the only words I remember after trying out for Rose Queen five years ago. This plucky girl in line with me kept saying so, as she applied layer after layer of lip gloss.
When I think of New Year’s in Pasadena, visions of marshmallow- chucking and tortilla bombs filled with whipped cream come to mind as out-of-towners flatten the streetside grass to a pulp, sipping hot cocoa in sleeping bags and taunting traffic.
I’ve slept through at least 20 parades, awaking noon-time to a new year of greasy bacon, egg and cheese bagel sandwiches and the syrupy voice of Stephanie Edwards waxing poetic as the parade is repeated a second of five times.
But the year I tried out was different. I was ready for the 3 a.m. wakeup call the morning of the parade. I was ready for the shellacking of my face, the incessant hum of a blow-dryer and the sinus headache from the diamond-studded tumbleweed pinned to my head.
It was a hot September tryout season at the Tournament House, so pantyhosed and eyelashes curled, we the young women of Pasadena were ready to go.
Numbered tags were handed out as we waited our turn, looking more like a crowd in line for the Matterhorn at Disneyland.
We were numbers now, practicing responses in our heads to the 100- year-old question: “Why do you want to be Rose Queen?”
There are always the rebels, defiant, who declare, “I just wanna to go to the ball.” But me, I had a chance.
As I stood before the panel it came out as, “Me like parades.”
Dang. What about serving the community? Or being part of a glorious tradition? You can never go wrong with tradition.
Getting it a little bit wrong was becoming my own tradition; like the time I gave a presentation on the value of baseball cards for an economics class and proceeded to call Hank Aaron “Aaron Hank” the entire time.
For all I know, I called the Rose Parade the “Parade Rose.”
All that’s left is a photo of me, red-cheeked, holding a clammy bouquet of roses, from being passed from one pair of hands to the next.
With the Tournament s don t-write-us, we ll-write-you approach, mailboxes were the hangout of necessity.
When I saw 25 finalists on the cover of the paper, I knew I was out of the game.
They let us eat cake, though — we 1,000 unluckies royally boogied down.
I threw on some taffeta and ended up paying upward of $80 for a bouffant done by a woman who pulled my hair into such slick submission I was left with a hot cross bun on my head. I could have broken bricks with that thing.
My date showed up with a lei he made from a plumeria plant his dad had been growing in their backyard for years. It looked like one of the tropical strands people wear as they de-plane in Hawaii for a weeklong fest of sunburned noses and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. It was courtship at its finest.
The night went swimmingly until my date lost his sea legs after dinner, getting food poisoning from scallops.
I danced away the night without him, my smile bigger, oftener and more fabulous.
Originally published in the Pasadena Star News December 21st, 2006