My friend Corinne asked if I was doing anything Saturday night and if I had a cocktail dress. I told her that I had no plans and that I did, indeed, have a cocktail dress. As I pulled up to her apartment, carsick and hot from traffic, Saturday afternoon she was there in a stunning baby blue, one strap evening gown. Almost immediately, I felt inadequate.
“I got this at Ross in the junior’s section,” I said.
“Leave it, your boobs look great,” she replied.
It only took 20 minutes, or so, before we drove up to the Beverly Hilton valet.
“You would tell me if I was underdressed, right?” I asked.
“Yes, and tell me if my extensions come out,” she quipped.
We walked into the hotel and mixed into a small pool of people wearing various gowns and dresses, most of which had an old Hollywood feel. It was a sea of sequins, accentuated shoulders, and revealing mid-thigh. Not a lot of bold colors and not a lot of Ross Dress for Less; it was The Humane Society’s Benefit Gala for the Genesis Awards. We collected our passes and waited outside the doors to the bar until they slowly opened. Corinne and I were among the first at the open bar. We both ordered Heinekens and stood there for an awkward second or two. There was a slideshow with various animal pictures rotating, at a rather pleasant speed, on the wall and monitors. “I could just stand here, sip my beer, and look at animal pictures,” I said.
Instead, we headed over to the red carpet just in time to see Beatrice, the Frenchie from Modern Family, walking down. My cheeks burned, my heart thumped, and I did everything possible to keep from crawling onto the carpet and cornering her in front of the photographers. Also in attendance was Leo, a German shepherd, accompanied by two uniformed police officers and Rocky, a long-haired Jack Russell, dressed in a martini olive-green sweater. The human guests on the red carpet included Pauley Perrette, of NCIS, Carrie Ann Inaba, a judge on Dancing with the Stars, Wendie Malick, of Just Shoot Me, and Moby.
We were seated at tables for dinner and served a salad as an opening course followed by a steak-like patty with a side of vegetables and a “purple carrot” which, I have since discovered, is called ‘Purple Haze’ in organic gardening circles. The food was delicious and the “meat” patty, warm and covered in light ginger gravy, crumbled in my mouth. Dinner table conversation in places like this can be tricky. The natural theme that connects us all is our care and compassion for animals, but discussing inhumane treatment of animals can turn any vegan meal into an unpredictable rip current of alcohol, gravy, and stomach acid. Emotionally charged questions began to circle the table:
“Did you see that video of the man shooting the horse point blank as some kind of message to animal activists?”
“No, but did you hear about what happened in La Jolla?”
“Yeah, I would like to kick her in the stomach. Kicking seals…get me in a room with her so she can see how it feels.”
“What happened with the horse?”
“He shot it, point blank, and killed it. It is on YouTube.”
A man at our table, in a black velvet newsboy cap, put down his silverware and thrust both hands in the air as if surrendering. “No more,” he said, “I can’t hear anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “We’ll stop. Let’s talk purple carrot. How is that purple carrot?”
He melted a little, with eyes wider and lifted his knife and fork again, “It is like a mix of red peppers and yellow peppers. I really like it.”
After the dessert, which was pure vegan chocolate deliciousness (chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and a chocolate wing), the lights were dimmed and the award show began. Beatrice came out to present the Sid Caesar award which showcases comedy. Futurama, The New Normal, and The Colbert Report were all nominated along with Stephen Colbert for a spot on Steve King and dogfighting. It was around this time that the bottle of white wine at the table was drained and the laughter stopped. The awards to follow were all focused on exposing the torture and exploitation of animals, or promoting the rehabilitation of those animals. I switched to the bottle of red because it was the only alcohol in sight and I needed to fuzz out the blood and pain in the clips from the nominees.
Nominated for Best TV News Magazine
20/20 “Deadly Pets,” ABC
60 Minutes “The Race to Save the Tortoise,” CBS
Inside Edition “Cockfighting Investigation,” Syndicated
Nightline “The Ugly Truth behind High Stepping Horses,” ABC
Rock Center with Brian Williams “At What Cost?”, “Ken and Rosie,” “Last Stand,” NBC
Nominated for Best National News
ABC World News with Diane Sawyer downer cow video
CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley “Ivory Poaching”
NBC Nightly News “Hurricane Sandy: Protecting Our Pets”
Nominated for Best Local TV News
KDVR-TV Denver FOX 31 News at Nine “Saving the Discarded Dogs”
KNBC 4 News “Bunny Trafficking”
WOIO TV 19 Action News “Busted in Oklahoma” and “An Exotic Homecoming”
As each presenter announced the nominees in each category the lights dimmed, a video clip played, and the booming audio of voices echoed across the ballroom. Often, I would cover my face with my hands, occasionally peeking through my fingers to see an animal struck, yanked, dragged or murdered. I could hear others at my table gasping with the intermittent, “Oh my God” whispered over the silenced clatter of glasses and plates. Then, as I felt the warm tears seep from my eyes and through my fingers, I heard myself weep into my palms, and slowly lost my breath. You spend all year avoiding video and pictures of war, dog fighting, poaching, famine and all other atrocities against our world, but you know that it’s there. You plop money in a jar when asked, you hand a banana to a man begging on the side of the freeway ramp, and you rescued your cat or dog. You volunteer at an event or train for a marathon; you do what you can to keep your mind from rattling, from screaming, from bleeding out into your eyes and mouth in hopelessness and despair without actually looking the beast in the eye.
In that ballroom, on Saturday night however, nothing was there to protect us. “I am going to the bathroom,” Corinne said. I joined her and we tinkled, blew our noses, and dabbed at our make-up with other women hiding from the ugly reality of our world in a posh bathroom. The truth is that without the televised exposure, without the audio and video capturing one cruel moment after the next, no one would be shamed, no one would face consequences, and nothing would change. With our dresses pulled back in place, our eyeliner and mascara cleaned up, and the paper towels tossed aside we walked back into the dark ballroom to bear witness again.
“Hey, hey,” Corinne whispered to me, “tell me that isn’t a real fur on the back of her chair.”
A woman at the table in front of us had a black fur coat draped over the back of her chair.
“It has to be faux. This is the Humane Society,” I said.
“Not necessarily. At The Hero Dog Awards a woman had a real fur,” she replied.
“No way,” I said staring at the woman’s coat.
Corinne took a picture of it on her phone — we all needed someone to blame and the poachers weren’t at the hotel that night; the exotic animal trainer who shoves and kicks his animals wasn’t there and the countless medical laboratories and cosmetics companies who ruthlessly test on live animals were home or at work. We needed a common enemy to extinguish that annoying feeling that we were helpless to the monster. So, this woman, in her late 50s or early 60s, sat at the table absorbing tear stained glares from the tables around her.
I finished the bottle of red. “Ok,” I said. “I am gonna do it.”
When the awards show wrapped and the house lights rose again, everyone popped out of their seats and chatter filled the room.
I walked over to the woman. “Excuse me, may I ask where you got a fur that looks so real?”
“Oh, it is fake. I assure you it is fake. I would never bring a real fur to something like this,” she said.
Does that mean she has a real one at home? Maybe not; keep calm. “Oh, my friend and I were just admiring it and I told her there is no way it could be real,” I explained.
“Of course not!” she exclaimed almost indignant.
She then peeled the tag on the inside of the coat over. It read, “100% faux.” I nodded, offered another compliment, and then slinked away a little disappointed. We all wanted to hunt down someone with our torches, our pail of hot tar and bag of feathers. We wanted to right what had been wronged; we wanted someone to pay for the lives that were taxed, sold, and killed. All the frustration, all the grief and shock, all the heartbreak had to go somewhere, onto someone, but not because of a fur coat at an award’s benefit; that isn’t the answer.
We need to talk about it, write about it. We need to listen and learn. We need to educate ourselves and each other. We can show the world that animal activists aren’t a group of emotional basket cases who lack leadership, logic, and organization. We need to stand strong next to each other, assume more discipline, grow more tolerant and love — love the world, love the animals, and love each other. Only then can the world really become resilient and brave enough to face the beast. We will never kill it, but we can fight.