Rituals From A Far Country (Attending the Emmys)

What are the Emmys like? First, you wait in a hot, hot lobby in a huge crush of people at the Shrine Auditorium, longing for the doors to open. Unless you think you are being terribly clever this year and avoiding the wait, only to find yourself stuck in an endless procession of traffic inching Emmy-wards at a pace slower than geologic time, and have to leap out of the car and sprint to your aisle in fancy shoes at five minutes to the hour. Where you are told that the aisle is closed until the first commercial. (Not that this happened to me or anything.)

Because, yes, they don’t want to show images of people dribbling up and down the aisles during the event. In fact, there exists a special class of people called “seat-fillers” — men and women of all ages, but mostly young, pretty women in lovely gowns — who will rush to your seat as soon as you rise to go to the restroom, lest the gaze of a camera lens brush over your row and find an empty place. And after you make your way over acres of land to reach the restroom and acres of land to return, cheerful ushers will forbid you from entering again until the next commercial. This means you have to time your breaks, lest you become trapped in the lobby while your category is being called and have to explain to your mother later why you weren’t on stage with the others. (“Let’s see… it’s only twenty after, but if I go now, there’ll be two commercial breaks to get through, and if I mis-time this… –But dammit, The Sopranos is going to win anyway, and I need to pee. –But my Mom’s ninety years old! How many of these things is she gonna see? —Sopranos had a great last season. –Yeah, you explain that to her, after it all goes wrong.”)

This year the House people were in the rear of the newfangled theater-in-the-round, where you can see the backs of most of the presenters, and many rows beyond them, the enormous teleprompter screen. Or, to give you a better idea, THE ENORMOUS TELEPROMPTER SCREEN. You can read every joke a few seconds before someone says it — which means you also have the joy of knowing Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were totally off the prompter when they offered the Emmy to Steve Carell. (The screen simply read, “…could not be here tonight, so we are accepting this in his place.”)

Afterwards, you go next door to the Governor’s Ball, where table after table fills a fairy-tale cavern (with a bar entirely sculpted of ice, down to the old-time advertising logos and the “hammered” edges of the “metal” top), and you eat lovely food and talk with your friends and everybody tells everybody how wonderful they look all decked out in finery. These are the people you work beside in t-shirts day in and day out, so it’s a Cinderella moment. Formal occasions probably didn’t have that same effect of magical transformation in, say, Georgian times, when they put as much effort into dressing for a canter in the park as we do for our one night a year; but that’s why I’m glad to be living now. Twice the fun, and no powdered wigs to worry about. Not to mention anesthesia.

Also, everyone should get dressed to kill after a year of work, and celebrate while a jazz band plays.

By this time it’s around 11:00, and the crowd is thinning out to go to other parties. At least, the socially plugged-in, popular kids are — the ones who function creatively on four hours of sleep. My manager called me a week beforehand, to say he couldn’t make the Emmys but he wanted to wish me luck. “I assume you’re going to the Spago party afterwards,” he remarked. I said, “After the Governor’s Ball? I’m going to be home in my jammies, with my dog.”

So you pick up your box of chocolates, and head outside. (When you sit down at the table, you find a box of chocolates beside your plate, with an embossed picture of the Emmy statue on front. They’re Dove chocolates, and they’re excellent. I forgot to take mine home last year, and one of the producers at work, a gentleman and a scholar, left a box tucked into my mail slot. This year another writer cautioned me not to forget again, and handed me the box beside her. It happened to be Hugh’s, which he’d left behind. So, yeah, I’ve got Hugh’s chocolates. Don’t tell him.)

Once outside, you see one of the most interesting phenomena of the entire ritual: the calling of the limousines. This is like the running of the bulls, and only slightly less lethal. A police line is set up out front, and the exiting crowd starts to accumulate there like water in a tub. Unseen voices in the distance call: “1531!” and “663!” If you poke and prod your way to the front, you’ll see limos crawling slowly down the street on both sides of the median, all moving in one direction; and a person walks beside each of the nearest ones holding a sign with that car’s number. Another person with a bullhorn repeats the called numbers, though not loudly enough to be heard over the sound of the crowd.

Turn to peer down the long street, and you’ll find an awesome sight: there, all the way to the end of eternity, are limo after limo after limo after limo, column after column, all rolling slowly toward you. It’s like something out of Triumph of the Will — the scale and symmetry alone are a little frightening. Frankly, attending the Emmys is worth it for this alone.

Last year the shortest and most dangerous writer among us took control of the chaos and led us all down the median, single-file, while she remained in cell contact with the driver whose phone number she’d prudently gotten ahead of time: “We’re on the median. Which lane are you in? I’m waving a hand over my head. Can you see me yet?”

At last you and your car find each other. If you’re with the cool kids, you go on now to one of the media parties. If you’re with me, you’ll go home to a dog-sitter who’ll tell you your dog and his Chihuahua puppy got along like gangbusters; and when said Chihuahua puppy leaves you’ll hear your dog whine plaintively, off and on, for the next three hours, not including the occasional abortive whimper as you lie in bed wondering just how far off track your life has gotten from the days when you lived in Jersey.

This is the Emmy ritual as I have known it, and you know what? I prize it, because it’s just not that damned often that a writer is fortunate enough to be on a nominated show. It means that your work is noticed and respected, and I’m never going to be cavalier about that.

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