The Perobian Beauty Contest
In the late winter of 1993, Prince Carabas of Perobia, then 26, learned that his father, King Antoine, had passed away. Carabas knew he must go home at once to claim the kingdom, such as it was, and his castle for himself. Carabas had been away for many years studying at the great universities of Europe while indulging in the good life of easy food, leisure and women.
Immediately, Carabas set off for home in his beat up 1967 BMW motorcycle and sidecar, with his manservant Jeffrey driving and Carabas complaining about the bumps.
Carabas envisioned his kingdom to be as a place where salons were full of the great literati, where exuberance overflowed and where he would rule with the soft touch of an enlightened king. He envisioned the family castle as a dwelling worthy of his place in the world, a mansion full of dutiful servants doing all that they could to make his life splendid. Servants to help him bathe and dress, servants to feed him, to respond to his every wish and desire, to honor him and to remark what a handsome guy he was. Instead, he found his family home in serious disrepair, served by a remaining few who had nowhere else to go.
Perobia is a small kingdom nestled in the Julian Alps. Its citizens are mostly artisans who toil in obscurity making lanyards for summer camps. Although small in size, Perobia’s license plates boldly brag “Bigger than Monaco’ in brilliant blue letters.
Each summer at the annual Perobian Lanyard Festival, King Antoine would award the Golden Lanyard to the winner of the most unusual lanyard. Young Dilly, as his family called him, was a three-time winner, most recently for his lanyard made of recycled pasta which came, of course, with a side of sauce. Whether this creation was truly the most unusual sparked heated debates among the Perobians including those who asserted that King Antoine bestowed the valued first prize, the Golden Lanyard and a three-cornered hat, on Young Dilly only because he was hungry.
Lovely Laila was given the honor of handing the Golden Lanyard to Young Dilly and placing the hat on his head. Lovely Laila, some believed, was the finest of all of the Perobian women. This too was subject to debate as some argued that she should have been disqualified from this honor because of her heavy Bronx accent and her style of prancing as she walked.
As Carabas approached the front door, itself begging for a fresh coat of lacquer, he boldly entered with Jeffrey close behind. “Yikes’ exclaimed Carabas, a word that was repeated twice by Jeffrey. Through the castle they went with looks of disbelief on their faces. “What the…” was uttered by Carabas with each room visited and repeated, of course by Jeffrey. When they finally came to Carabas’ childhood bedroom he entered gingerly, Jeffrey on his toes, worried about what he’d find. “Aaahh” he exclaimed as he spotted on the far wall a picture of the 1972 Perobian soccer team. In the center of the photo was team captain and Carabas’ hero Dick Arubas holding high a soccer ball in one hand and the Perobian flag in the other. The picture was captioned ‘Pretty Good Team’ which always made Carabas proud. The flag, on the other hand, with its semi-distinctive white-on-white, had never generated similar pride. The flag had been created centuries ago by Old King Petros when there was a color shortage in Perobia but, even all these years later, was still the same, untouched and derided.
The dutiful servants sprang to their feet, perhaps not sprang but rose slowly and carefully. First up was Mria who always wished they’d found a second ‘a’ for her name. “Your Highness” she said, “Good Trip?” “Not so good” snorted Carabas “I left my best walking shoes in Brussels” as he peered angrily at Jeffery “And the food along the way left much to the imagination”, vegan hot dog stands not being one’s first choice.
Slibas then inched forward. A tear left his eye as he said “We’d of spiffed this place up for you but the one can of paint was missing a lid and the contents had congealed into the likeness of Charles DeGaulle”. “Yup” said Carabas, “I’m sure you would have done better if you could”, again staring at Jeffrey who had left two gallons of fresh baby blue paint next to a Dutch Windmill.
Finally, Aganata made an appearance looking happy, smiling and joyful having just beaten Slibas in Words with Friends. “My Dear Aganata” said Carabas, “What pleases you today?” Having been warned never to play games while on duty, Aganata could only remark that the squirrel population in Perobia was thriving.
“Jeffrey, let’s take a walk and take a look at the world of Perobia and see if it brings back memories of better times”, said Carabas, thinking back to when Perobia had called itself the “Inch Worm Capital of the World”. Off they went, Mria, Slibas and Aganata waving them goodbye and promising a homemade meal of some leftover lanyard pasta when they returned.
Main Street Perobia was a collection of small shops, some of which sold canned perishable, some of which sold vintage clothing, some of which auctioned off second hand gym equipment and all of which sold lanyards. At the end of Main Street, which was also the end of Perobia, there was a small hotel, The Perobian Arms, housing the few tourists who had turned left instead of right and found themselves in Perobia and needing a place to sleep. For all who visited the hotel there was a small map to be sold which featured all of Perobia’s highlights, the rock on which Old King Petros had placed his left boot to tie it, the dog bone that had been discovered during the excavation for the town hall where the inchworm collection is now displayed and finally a discolored book in a language that had yet to be deciphered. To save money, the map, such as it was, is also the Perobian national stamp.
Just to the west of Main Street is a small brook where Carabas and his young friends would swim, boat and fish. Since the brook often babbled badly, Carabas’ mother made sure that he was carefully tethered to the old dock whenever he entered the brook. Now of age, Carabas, stripped off all of his garments and dove in to the brook soon coming dangerously close to the Perobian Falls. Jeffrey, observing the risk before him, dove in fully clothed, grabbed for Carabas’ hand and pulled him to safety. A small group of Perobians had watched the scene unfold and cheered loudly, not for Jeffrey’s life-saving feat but for Carabas’ ordinance-defying act of nude bathing. “Hail to the King” they exclaimed as Carabas hid behind King Petros’ rock to get dressed with privacy.
“Hey C’mon!” said Jeffrey, “You’ve got nothing more to hide” but Carabas shushed him as he emerged fully clothed except for one sock that had somehow gone over the falls.
Perobian’s handy man, Gus the Third, was summoned to the castle. No one was quite sure how Gus got his name since his father was named Ralph and his grandfather Amos. “Gus’ said Carabas, “Give me an estimate of what it would cost to make this place look like new”. Gus said he would even though he had no idea what needed to be done or how Carabas would pay for whatever the costs were. Gus toured the castle with Jeffrey close behind, Carabas enjoying his brief period of being Jeffrey-free. “Here’s what I think” said Gus as he then preceded to list 30 repairs with a total price of $70,00 Perobian dollars. Since no country on earth accepted Perobian currency there was no way to get its true value. “Where am I going to get that much money?” cried Carabas. “Yeah” said Jeffrey. “I don’t have it and don’t know where to get it” continued Carabas. “Any ideas? Anyone?” Mria spoke first. “We could hire Jeffrey out at $5 an hour”. “Wouldn’t work” said Carabas. “He’s a known commodity and no one will hire a man with so few skills”. Jeffrey nodded his agreement. Slibas stepped forward, opened his mouth to speak and then retreated behind Mria. Next up would have been Aganata but she had nothing to add and went to look after the dinner in the kitchen. “Well, we’re sunk!” moaned Carabas and the room fell silent.
Lovely Laila interrupted the gloom by saying “Why don’t we have a beauty contest, a Perobian beauty contest?” Sure that she would win, Lovely Laila continued “We could charge admission to all of the contestants, their families, all of the visitors and anyone who thought maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea. The Perobian Arms could house everyone and all of the proceeds could cover Gus’ work”. Carabas thought over this idea as Jeffrey rubbed his chin in parallel contemplation.
“That’s it!” he shouted, “Jeffrey, pin a Perobian stamp on Lovely Laila’s forehead and let’s get to work.” Despite the fact that Perobia was not known for its beauties or even its not so bad lookings, the idea was hatched.
The population of Perobia reached a high of 1,000 in the 19th century but has been on a steady decline since then. Some blame that on the lack of jobs or opportunity for Perobian youth. Most blame it on the bad name that Perobia acquired during what was known as ‘The Period of Inferiority’. Not-so-Good King Mitros took the blame for this period when he demanded that everyone be dumbed down to match the minimal intellect of his slovenly son Prince Midling.
There’s one school in Perobia, grades K-12, and one college, the University of Perobia, attended exclusively by Perobians who major, as one might expect, in the art and history of lanyards. Males and females are evenly divided. There are a few Perobians of color who are celebrated during Perobia’s Diversity Week, an event that actually lasts slightly less than half a day but is stretched out for posterity’s sake.
With all of this in mind, Prince Carabas needed to figure out how Perobia could stage a profitable beauty contest. “No way” said Jeffrey but Carabas had other ideas. “There’s the truth and there’s the Perobian truth. Jeffrey, where do you fall on this issue?” Knowing that there was but one answer, Jeffrey volunteered to be the Minister of Perobian Misinformation and thus launch what was immediately called ‘The Quintessential Beauty Contest — Where Perobia meets the World’.
‘All are Welcome’ announced the flyers that flooded the country. ‘No Age Requirement, No Previous Beauty Pageant Experience Needed, No Matter How You Look and No Matter What Others Say About You’. The contest was scheduled for May 17, the Perobian National Holiday when Perobia gained its independence but from whom and when no one is sure.
It started as a trickle of applications and subsided from there but by April 1 there were seven brave Perobian women and three intrepid Perobian men who submitted their photos and resumes.
In an ancient biplane Jeffrey flew over Europe air-dropping invitations to the great event. As May 17 approached, news of the beauty contest had tweaked the interest of a few Europeans, most of whom wondered out loud where Perobia was. “Never heard of it” said Victor of Palermo, a remark that was repeated in more than a dozen languages. For no good reason at all, the interest of many was piqued and reservations followed, each accompanied by admission fees: $10 for men and women, $5 for children under 12 and $3 for animals, all kinds.
A platform was erected in the Perobian town square. Chairs and stables were set up facing the platform with a few pointing in the opposite direction to accommodate the disinterested. Vendors’ booths lined the chairs, some blocking the platform as was directed by the Perobian Chamber of Commerce. For sale were lanyards, books about lanyards and water from the babbling brook.
Contestants brought their finest outfits with the hopes of being declared the winner. No actual prize was announced or in fact given. “It’s the honor that counts” said each contestant, believing that a victory would give them a way out of Perobia.
A great “Huzzah” accompanied the entrance of Carabas to the event with Jeffrey dropping rose pedals at his feet. “Ouch” cried Carabas as he stared at Jeffrey, “You should have left the thorns behind!”
When all had taken their seats, the Perobian Country Motto was recited by D.D. Darius, the country clerk: “Illic ‘got esse melius quam hoc loco”. Darius read the motto only in Latin as its true meaning, ‘There’s got to be a better place than this’ was better left unsaid in all other languages.
Jeffrey, now serving as emcee for the event, thanked all who came and invited each to purchase a lanyard made especially for the day, a lanyard in white honoring the country flag. “$15 big ones is all that it will cost you” exclaimed Jeffrey. As Jeffrey waited for the chorus of boos to subside he stood again to announce the first participant.
“Now entering the stage is Patrikia, a young woman from the Perobian suburb of Perobiaville”. Patrikia entered with a swish of her skirt and a full pirouette, thanking Jeffrey for catching her as she fell. Patrikia smiled as she instructed the Perobian Nation Orchestra, a lively three-person ensemble, to give her a G. In a strained and strangely muted baritone Patrikia sang about the joys of the Perobian countryside, bared her left shoulder and sat down to the sound of at least two people clapping in rhythm.
“And now here comes “Miss Berthania, a beauty from right over there” said Jeffrey, pointing to no place in particular. Berthania held a small harmonica in her hand. She too pirouetted, this time keeping her balance, and began to play. Berthania was a slight lass, the harmonica was small resulting in a sound only heard by BooBoo, the Perobian national dog. She too bared her left shoulder and retreated, leaving the audience wondering when she would begin.
Jeffrey stared into the wings as his son Jefferino mounted the platform. Jefferino had always wanted to displease his father and here was his golden chance. He spun once around, this time Jeffrey not catching him as he fell to the ground, arose, bared his left shoulder and did a slow walk around the stage. He bowed, smiled savagely at his father and was gone.
Lovely Laila strutted on to the stage, thanking all for their votes to come, bowed so graciously and deeply that Jeffrey had to help her get up. Baring her left shoulder, she pranced off stage.
The remaining six contestants all acted with similar aplomb, all generally unattractive with no apparent talent and all for some reason baring their left shoulders. As the last exited the stage Jeffrey rose. “I have an applause meter” said Jeffrey. “Let’s hear it for each contestant, the one with the loudest applause being the winner”. Since only two audience members remained, both in the indifferent seats, there was no applause to be given. “In that case we will give a question to all participants, the one who answers first wins”. The question was a riddle:
‘There are two ducks in front of a duck, two ducks behind a duck and a duck in the middle. How many ducks are there?’
Since nobody knew the answer (3), not even Jeffrey, Jeffrey improvised and named Gloriana the winner for no reason other than he liked the freckle, in the shape of a small elephant, on her left shoulder.
As day turned to dusk, Carabas eagerly counted the proceeds. After deducting the costs of platform construction, chair rentals, flyers, airplane and applause meter, a grand total of $17 resulted. “Not so bad” said Jeffrey under the glare of Carabas. “At least we can afford a new toilet seat”. All agreed that a new toilet seat was a good use of funds. Gus the Third was summoned to do the work.
All surrounded the new toilet seat and exclaimed what a beauty it was which Carabas had to admit was true. In a moment of inspiration, Jeffrey said “Let’s charge 35 cents for the privilege of sitting on this fine seat!” “Jeffrey, you’ve done it” beamed Carabas, “All will be well”.
And it was. Over the years enough money was raised for Gus the Third to complete the repairs and to restore the castle to its former glory. Also, over time, as memory of the beauty contest happily faded, visitors arrived in Perobia to see the three wonders on the Perobian stamp which had by then been revised to include the toilet seat.