It was February of my sophomore year of college – I was just getting back into the swing of things after a month off, wearing sweats to class to protest the dreary Portland winter weather. My dad called my cell phone and said he was in Canada for a med school reunion. He had been chatting with an ex-girlfriend and her husband, who was on the Canadian Film Board, and the husband said he might be able to get my dad two tickets to the Academy Awards. Would I be interested in going as my dad’s date?
We bought tickets to LA, I bought a marked-down prom dress at Macy’s and my dad rented a tux. He is morally opposed to patent leather, so he shined his best black shoes a little too much and wore those. We had heard on the radio and TV that the red carpet would be significantly shortened this year and the mood would be somber, to honor and acknowledge the war in Iraq that had just started. We took a cab to the Kodak theater. On the way, my dad explained to me that one of the tickets had his name on it, but the name on the other one was that of the man who got the tickets for us. Since the security measures had been tightened for the event, he wanted to warn me they may not let me in. I told him I understood but that if they didn’t I wanted him to go without me. He pretended to object, but then thanked me.
Sure enough, when we showed our tickets and our ID’s didn’t match, we were led to another room so the ticket taker could ask her superior what to do. When the ticket taker began explaining the situation to her superior, my dad began talking over her, not really saying anything. Repeating the same things. Not letting her make her story clear. The superior waved us off and said she didn’t care if the person invited had a different guest than he had originally planned. By this point, the ticket taker was too frustrated to try explaining for the fourth time that it was the guest that had decided to bring a different date. We were in.
The night was a blur. We stood in a large foyer with thick, plush carpet and watched the guests enter after they had been interviewed outside. I didn’t know what to do; I had never felt so awkward. People in tuxedos walked around with trays of hors d’oeuvres and martinis that were lime green or candy apple red. I reached for a lime green one and my dad took it out of my hands. “Do you know what that is?” he said, making a face, “Apple martinis are not good.” He didn’t even argue that I was only 20 (and barely).
My dad almost fell over when Meryl Streep walked in. “She’s, like, it for me, Meg.” I was in awe of Queen Latifah, although my dad and I agreed that someone lied to her about her dress. I saw a cute brunette I didn’t recognize in a beautiful sparkling baby blue dress with spaghetti straps that were digging into her shoulders and thought, clearly she’s not an A-lister or her dress would fit better. I was floored when I went to the bathroom and found that not only was there a person to hand you a towel after you washed your hands, there were lotion bottles and every type of spritz or spray you could ever need to freshen up. They also had a glass canister full of tins of mints like they sold at Starbucks.
We found our seats. We were on the left side of the stage about 10 rows back. The woman in front of me had a gravity-defying updo that commanded my attention. Steve Martin was hosting. Mickey Rooney stood up in the crowd to be introduced at one point. He was on the right side of the theater, about five rows behind us.
Michael Moore won for Best Documentary and started his speech talking about false election results. The crowd booed. The orchestra tried to force him off the stage, but he just talked louder. After the break, Steve Martin made a joke about Michael Moore being helped into the trunk of his car outside.
Peter O’Toole received the Academy Honorary Award. Watching the clips from his movies and the interviews in the montage before the award presentation was truly moving. He was incredibly gracious and funny. I couldn’t believe he’d been nominated so many times and had never won.
The Pianist won Best Director and the people seated directly in front of us all stood to clap. The woman’s hairdo didn’t move. At one point, an actress I didn’t know, Jennifer Garner, was introduced to present the next award. I recognized her baby blue sparkly dress.
Chicago took Best Picture and I was thrilled. We filed out of the theater and tried to find a cab among the limousines. We went out to a fancy sushi place where you sat on mats at a low table and the service was terrible. I was still so excited I didn’t notice or care. I could barely walk in my heels anymore and my dad still had a Meryl Streep glow. It was an amazing day, to say the least.