Fortified with several glasses of excellent Pinot Noir, the assurances of a friend, and a sense of bravado, I walked into the circus (aka the school gym) mostly okay with the fact that my eyelids were covered in glitter, that I had a fascinator on my head (didn’t even know those existed a week ago), and that my bank account would prevent me from bidding on anything. This was my night to have fun and to let loose. I had even left my usual date, my husband, home in favor of a friend. No more security blanket for me!
Toni and I taunted our husbands with a photo of our paddles at the ready!
The plan was to shed my social insecurities and redefine myself. This wasn’t my first time to attend and I had determined that this was the perfect opportunity to add some much needed fun in my life. At the social event of the year, wearing a hat thingy. This plan was doomed from the beginning. It didn’t take long for a cold sweat to creep up my arms and down my back. As I searched for the outlandish and somewhat provocative outfits I had seen in the “What to Wear Video”, lyrics to the song “Stuck in the Middle with You” started repeating in my head.
“Well, I don’t know why I came here tonight
I got the feeling that something ain’t right”
Instead of corsets and tulle, I saw women dressed to the nines. Nary a fascinator among them. Beautiful gowns made of feathers and bronzed silk swirled by me. Hair done up in the style of the French royalty framed exquisite jewels (the real kind) and make up. It was as if the royalty of the French court had brought the magic of their wealth to Cirque Magique, this year’s annual dinner/dance/auction at my daughter’s school.
“I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down those stairs”
As the movers and shakers held court, I wondered if those of us with limited income were there to provide an amuse bouche before the main event. After all, we had played along with their theme, embracing the idea of a vintage French circus. Thank God, I thought, I hadn’t come dressed as a circus animal. That sexy tiger was the recipient of many disdainful, raised eyebrows.
“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you
And I’m wondering what it is I should do
It’s so hard to keep this smile on my face
Losing control, I’m all over the place”
Now, I know better than to play the compare game, but I’ve never felt as ordinary and in the middle as I did that night. Even though I’d been a part of the school community for years, that night I felt like the kid who had never found the secret decoder ring in the Cracker Jacks box, forever left outside of the inner circle, with no way to decode the secret password.
It was the start of the auction, however, that gave me perspective. Warned that we should consider our bids as donations and not purchases, the auctioneer started off the evening with an opening bid of $6000.00. My paddle remained in the envelope, under my chair. It didn’t matter. The auctioneer never even looked to the paddles raised in the back of the room. He knew where the money was and kept his attention on the action in the front of the room, the main ring in this three-ring circus.
“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right”
As I sat and watched wealthy people bid extravagantly on items donated by their equally wealthy friends, I got it. This event, this party, wasn’t just to raise money. It was to celebrate the generosity of those who raised their paddles. We all paid to have a seat at the table, but the donors were the reason for the event. And, really, I had no reason to complain and many reasons to celebrate. My children benefitted from generous financial assistance made available through the paddle raising taking place.
“Well, you started off with nothing,
And you’re proud that you’re a self-made man
And your friends they all come crawling,
Slap you on the back and say,
I got over it. Well, I got over it enough to ditch the hat and have fun. I danced with a bunch of women, stayed away from the tiger (who was now leashed to a frisky ringmaster), and socialized with friends and acquaintances. I remember looking around the dance floor and noticing that none of the paddle raisers were dancing. Perhaps it was too plebian. Perhaps that tiger was the problem. (She was someone’s problem, ‘cause I’m positive that ringmaster was not her husband!)
Days later, however, I keep crunching the numbers in my head. The auction raised about ¾ of a million dollars. At the end of the evening, two people stood up and donated an additional two million to the school. While I might never witness someone stand up and give away that kind of money again, I can’t help but wonder why I was there. Why were most of us there? I felt like a voyeur, a member of the below stairs staff who was there to show awe at the largesse of the donors. I think I'd rather write a thank you note. And I can’t shake the feeling that perhaps all the money the rest of us paid to throw the appreciation party might have made a nice little donation all on its own.
Note: Yes, there really is a What to Wear video created each year letting people know how to dress to the theme. To be fair, some of the donors did embrace the theme more than others. Nancy Lasseter, wife of Pixar genius John Lasseter, demonstrates how to have fun without wearing designer threads.
About the lyrics in my head: Also known simply as "Stuck In The Middle," this Stealers Wheel classic was co-written by the group's guitarist Gerry Rafferty and keyboard player Joe Egan. In his obituary of Rafferty for the January 5, 2011 issue of the Daily Telegraph, Martin Chilton said of this song that it was "Written as a parody of Bob Dylan's paranoia, it ridiculed a music industry cocktail party, with the lyrics: Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.To Rafferty's utter disbelief his parody, composed as little more than a joke but with a catchy Pop arrangement, struck gold, selling more than a million copies.