It’s impossible to distill the essence of rock-trivia expertise. So much relies on those tiny chromosomal circuits that drive the mainsprings of our personality that it’s difficult to say why one person can live an entirely normal, well-calibrated life–healthy relationships, balanced meals, a new pair of shoes now and again–while another person feels compelled to spend hours scrutinizing the liner notes to a Mott the Hoople LP on the slim hope of discovering who supplies the backup vocals for “Jerkin’ Crocus.” But if you have that trivial touch, earning fame and fortune is almost pitifully easy. Want a little extra cash? Name the Brothers Gibb. Need a new stereo? List the Waterboys albums, in order.

In the freezing drizzle of autumn in Chicago, I’m trudging through another grad-school day, force-feeding scraps of the Western literary canon to Northwestern sophomores and chafing against the mounting irrelevance of my own scholarly work (“Bad Heir Days: The Cosmetic Dimension of Inheritance in Victorian Fiction”). Tired and hazy, I am jarred into alertness at the sight of what looks like some futuristic archaeological dig in a corner of the Technological Institute lobby: a table littered with electronic equipment and empty quart cartons of Haagen-Dazs. It’s surrounded by a handful of other tables at which students are seated, scribbling furiously. Women in white shirts circle the perimeter serenely, bestowing fliers and abstract smiles. Because my class doesn’t begin for another ten minutes, I decide to investigate–by investigate I mean that I read the monstrous red-and-yellow banner that overhangs the group–and learn that I have stumbled onto a preliminary audition for the inaugural Rolling Stone Rock & Roll Bowl. The fliers are actually short trivia quizzes, which will be used to narrow the field from thousands of hopeful students on 30 campuses to a few lucky winners. A game of skill, not of chance. No purchase necessary. Fabulous prizes.

“Quiz?” says one of the women in white, taking a step toward me. “Sure,” I say, taking a step toward her. At one of the writing tables, I move briskly through the 25 multiple-choice questions. What was the title of ZZ Top’s first album? (ZZ Top’s First Album.) Who is the lead singer of Soundgarden? (Chris Cornell.) Which famous rock star appeared on stage with Elton John in a 1974 performance? (John Lennon.) No sweat. I scrawl my name across the top and hand my quiz to another woman in white. Ten minutes later rock and roll is a fading memory, and I am listening to a lecture about alienation effects in midperiod Brechtian dramaturgy.

Almost a week later, I return home to the sound of the ringing telephone. By and large those welcome-home calls bring only bad news, and I pick up the receiver fully expecting to hear that my girlfriend has been kidnapped by the Illinois branch of the Staten Island Liberation Organization. In fact, I’m already mentally rehearsing the part where I cower and whimper and beg them not to harm her when I realize that the pleasantly bland female voice on the other end of the line isn’t threatening me. “Hello,” she says. “I’m calling from US Concepts, the public relations firm handling the Rolling Stone Rock & Roll Bowl, and I’m pleased to tell you that you’re Northwestern’s high scorer. As the campus winner, you now advance to the local finals, where you’ll be competing against other area schools. All you need to do is select two more members to round out your team and be onstage next Thursday night at Northwestern’s Tech auditorium. Your opponents will be DePaul and Loyola. Thank you, congratulations, and rock and roll.”

Rock and roll is essentially an energy, and as a result many great bands exist in a state of constant instability, galvanized by the tensions between their principals. Think of Mick and Keith, Chuck D and Flavor Flav, Gunnar and Matthew. “Internal dissent,” said Keith Moon, “is like an ever-replenishing battery, positive and negative charges productively conjoined, and I for one am thankful that my corner of the world has not surrendered to quiescence.” For all these reasons, when it comes time for me to assemble my trivia team, I decide against selecting teammates who are merely echoes of myself. I vow to transcend the narrow boundaries of the English department, to make use of the diverse university community. I pick two philosophy graduate students, Steve Weinstein and Will Getter. You see the difference? Literature grad student, philosophy grad student. One studies writers of fiction, the other writers of philosophy. OK, maybe not. But you try working up a yin-yang miracle in a weekend.

Steve is a wiry Wittgensteinian taking his second stab at grad school after a ten-year tenure as a Boston bar-circuit rock star. Will is a friend of Steve’s, a specialist in the philosophy of humor who has recently embarked on a side career as a stand-up comedian. Soft living has sentenced us to a certain kind of expertise, and for some reason I can’t find anything in the rules that limits the competition to undergrads. It seems too good to be true–allowing people with our depth and breadth of experience to take advantage of callow children. Though I keep expecting a call from the rules committee, I’m optimistic about our prospects.

Midweek we schedule a practice dinner, something to oil the joints before we grow up in public. It’s difficult at first to downshift from academics; regurgitating rock facts isn’t exactly like tracing metaphors of recursion in Ulysses or unpacking Nietzschean rhetoric. We start with simple drills (Who is Cynthia Plastercaster? An artist-groupie who takes plaster casts of rock stars’ penises. How did Tim Buckley die? Overdose. What was the Infidel Sharks’ biggest hit? “Hard Currency.”), and then move on to our favorite apocrypha: Faith No More’s Mike Patton, terrified of toilets, leaving onstage packages for Axl Rose before the Gunners’ sets; Marvin Gaye’s father, furious over a missing letter from an insurance company, emptying a round into his son’s angelic throat. As the captain I reserve the right to tell the final story, and I pick something inspirational: Sly Stone in Fort Meyers in 1983, passed out on a hotel bed with an underage friend, the coke a faint white dust upon the pillows when the police arrive. “Did you have drugs here?” asks the cop. Sly–dreaming of the Garden stage, no doubt, Kathy Silva in an ivory train–twists open one reddened eye, slurs “Yeah, man, but they’re all gone,” and slips back into sleep.

We arrive early for the Chicago regional competition; we are, after all, the home team, and we feel that we should take full advantage of our psychological edge. The stage decor is generic game-show, three panel podiums fitted with buzzers and microphones and a raised platform nearby for the host, comedian and former MTV personality Mario Joyner. Before the partisan crowd of about 100, Mario introduces the three teams and explains the rules: nine categories of three questions each; 10-, 20-, and 30-point awards for correct responses; first team to ring in has five seconds to confer and answer; no penalties for wrong answers; and a final question whose value depends on the teams’ wagers, a la Final Jeopardy. The three highest-scoring regional winners will travel to Los Angeles for the national semifinals; the top two squads from that round will move on to Daytona Beach for the finals, scheduled during spring break. The grand prize: a brand-new Ford Mustang for each team member. “Are you ready?” asks Joyner. All nine of us nod in unison.

“This punk singer,” says Mario, “began her career as a poet and is perhaps best known for her cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Glo–‘”

My hand, hovering over the buzzer, drops like a hawk. Our panel light glares white. “Northwestern,” pipes Mario, and we answer “Patti Smith.” Ten points appear on the electronic scoreboard in front of our podium, and we never look back. DePaul seems to have cornered the market on questions about the Dead, and Loyola is quicker on the trigger when it comes to bubble gum, but everything else is in our jurisdiction. Let the record show that we were good sports, gracious competitors, not prone to grandstanding. Let the record also show that we pounded the opposition as flat as LPs. When Mario needles us for phrasing our answers in the form of a question–“This isn’t Jeopardy,” he says disparagingly–Will calls him “Alex,” and the audience laughs approvingly. By the time the final question rolls around, we’re the undisputed local champs. The Daily Northwestern, in a stirring show of school spirit, misspells my name.

About a week after the competition, while we’re waiting to see if our score qualifies us for Los Angeles, I get a wake-up call in the form of a UPS package. It’s drab brown on the outside, a little worn at the corners. But inside, there among the wadded newspaper and Styrofoam peanuts, is my team’s booty–three Aiwa personal cassette players, coupons for 18 free pints of Haagen-Dazs, three one-year subscriptions to Rolling Stone, and three denim jackets, each with an embroidered Rock & Roll Bowl patch across the back. For the first time the real face of the competition moves into view: I’m not just a winner, I’m a prizewinner. I can listen to tapes on my new personal cassette player (estimated retail value $49.95) while I enjoy 12 months of glossy rock coverage (estimated retail value $30) and upholster my arteries with Cookie Dough Dynamo (estimated retail value $15). I can gaze admiringly at my new jacket (estimated retail value $59.95) before I consign it forever to the cheap seats of my closet.

I call Will and Steve to tell them the good news, and they’re uneasy at first, philosophically uncomfortable about taking handouts from big business. I try to bring them to their senses by reading aloud from the corporate publicity materials. “Ford, whose cars and trucks are at the forefront of the youth market, has five of the top ten best-selling vehicle lines. . . . Aiwa America Inc. is a leading manufacturer of superior quality home and entertainment systems. . . . MBNA America is the nation’s second-largest lender through bank credit cards, with $12.4 billion in managed loans. . . . Haagen-Dazs is the only worldwide brand of superpremium frozen desserts and novelties.” Will jumps on board as soon as I mention the “youth market,” but Steve proves a harder nut to crack, holding out all the way through “second-largest lender” and “managed loans.” Only when tempted with “superpremium frozen desserts and novelties” does he finally capitulate. “OK, OK!” he cries. “Bring on the prizes!” It sounds as if his mouth is watering. I feel a twinge of guilt at having undone his idealism, but only a twinge. Multibillion-dollar corporations don’t compromise people; people compromise people.

Before we’ve had time to fully absorb our fortune, we get more good news. Our runaway regional victory has earned us a trip to the semifinals in Los Angeles (estimated retail value $800), where one of the three winning regional teams will be eliminated. After that, all that separates each of us from the gleaming form of a new Ford Mustang (estimated retail value $15,000) is a good showing during spring break in Daytona Beach. In our initial giddiness we study around the clock, drilling deeper into the rock mother lode than good sense requires–Hawkwind, T’Pau, Sparky Reddick and the Roadmasters. Smokey Robinson’s “First I Look at the Purse” takes on the feel of a manifesto.

In any competition you want to size up the opposition, and there is plenty of opportunity for that the first night in Los Angeles. We’re at the Hotel Sofitel Ma Maison, a moderately expensive French establishment where the reservation agents sport authentic accents and the front desk distributes complimentary baguettes each morning. We’re staying here for that certain ineffable continental essence–that je ne sais quoi, as it were–and also because of the proximity of the Hard Rock Cafe, the site of the big event. Shortly after we arrive at the hotel we meet Jami Kelmenson, the US Concepts staffer who is handling Left Coast operations. She introduces us to the rest of the corporate team–representatives of Rolling Stone and Ford, among others–and also to our opponents, San Jose State and Cleveland State. While the San Jose State team (Dawn, Walter, and Thomas) seems like a nice enough group, the Cleveland team (Jim, Karrie, and Lisa) worries us slightly. The two women are eerily silent, and then there’s the matter of the captain’s mythically speedy buzzer finger. A number of the contest organizers discuss the digit in admiring tones, and more than twice it’s referred to simply as “the finger.” Since we’re graduate students, arch tourists in the land of undergrads, we try to keep level heads, but secretly we’re shaken. That night in a diner Will and I talk strategy. Does it make any sense to try for first place, or should we just play to stay out of the cellar? In a close match, should we bet our whole nest egg on the final question? Should we have someone “pay a visit” to the Finger? Should we wear black for the dear departed Harry Nilsson?

All day Friday and Saturday, while touring Los Angeles with my brother Aaron and his girlfriend Catherine, I am visited by a growing sense of dread. Songs on the radio are suddenly, tragically unfamiliar, and at lunch I seize up when I can’t remember who sang “Seasons in the Sun.” By the time we get to the Hard Rock Cafe, the jitters are Richter-like, and even the glorious chorus of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Hey Tonight,” which spills from the house speakers, is nothing but a threat. After marveling at the rock paraphernalia on display–Stephen Stills’s car keys, Joey Ramone’s comb (almost new!)–Steve and I stare blankly at a black leather jacket worn by Bob Dylan and Kinky Friedman. “I know Kinky, sure,” says Steve, “but who’s the other guy again?” My friend Harold, who lives in San Diego, has come north for the weekend, and he and his wife Angie sit with Aaron and Catherine at a table front and center. I drop by several times to have them butter me up; you can never overestimate the therapeutic value of flattery on demand.

Installed onstage after Mario’s introductions, we face the jam-packed restaurant and feel our poise returning. We’re grad students, we remind ourselves. We’ve seen the world. We’ve tasted adversity. We’ve outgrown the costliest car-insurance brackets. We’re competing against greenhorns. How can we lose? After good-luck handshakes with San Jose State and wary glances at the Finger, we crack our knuckles, limber up our rock and roll souls, and set a course for Daytona.

As part of ongoing research into the lives of our sea-dwelling pals, marine biologists have conducted experiments that compare the reflexes of baby squid and adult squid. Here is a brief summary of the results: The babies blazed through their time trials, twitching at the speed of thought. The adults, on the other hand, sat there stumped, blinking their wide eyes. I mention this study because it may help to explain the stunning early dominance of Cleveland State, the way the Finger has us under his thumb. We’re being crushed, beaten worse than the crowd at Altamont, and when the digital lightning does lag San Jose State picks up the slack. It isn’t that we don’t know the answers, only that we can’t get in the game. “Butterfly, Doodlebug, and Ladybug make up this hip-hop trio,” says Mario. “Name the band that released the album Pork Soda. This former Go-Go’s guitarist reached the top ten only once as a solo artist, with the song “Rush Hour’ off the album Fur.” We pound on the buzzer to no avail as the answers whistle by–Digable Planets, Primus, Jane Wiedlin. Midway through the round, with the score 140-120-0 (we’re the zero), we catch Cleveland State on a technicality: to a question about the Public Image Ltd. frontman, they answer Rotten when they should have said Lydon. Though the judges subtract the points from Cleveland, they won’t award them to us. In fact, Mario mocks our desperation openly, and though we manage to ring in for a 20-pointer–“This folk musician translated or extended many songs for other performers, including “If I Had a Hammer,’ “Guantanamera,’ and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”‘ (Pete Seeger, for Pete’s sake)–we’re all but mathematically eliminated from contention. Members of the audience are writhing in empathetic embarrassment, and even my table of faithful fans has stopped cheering. I drift into a private fantasy in which our inevitable defeat is rendered palatable by high production values, fancy Dutch-slant camera work, and a hipper-than-thou sound track. On the cerebellar stage, our humiliating performance is shrouded in azure fog, and we drop out of sight with artsy grace chaperoned by Cheap Trick’s “Downed.”

While I’m filling my brainpan with denial, Steve and Will are going about the difficult business of salvaging the round. They’re whirling like twin dervishes, chipping away at the deficit and capitalizing on the Finger’s smallest errors. What long-lasting British band was named after the 18th-century inventor of the seed drill? Will knows. How do you spell Lynyrd Skynyrd? Steve knows. Who was on the cover of the first Rolling Stone? Both Will and Steve know. When I regain my senses we’re nearing triple digits, and then we sweep a category and climb into a tie for second. With our resurrection fueled by the now-delirious crowd–everybody loves to see the kicked dog bite back–we go on hitting with our rhythm sticks, refusing to stop until we have grabbed every remaining point on the board. Amazingly, we do just that; the questions, which seem to be tending toward 60s rock, favor our geriatric preferences. When the round ends our total tops out at 210. San Jose holds down second place with 190, and Cleveland State stands stalled at 140. A difficult final audio question–an early Simple Minds atrocity that’s unrecognizable in the noisy restaurant–stumps all three teams and nails down the single greatest comeback in the history of rock and roll. Harold and Aaron throw up Vs for victory. Roadies stream from the wings to put the Finger in a splint. The Hard Rock staffers call for a taxidermist to fix us where we stand.

Can you call a dream a dream if you’re not asleep? This becomes a pressing question in the weeks after Los Angeles. I’m not sleeping, but in my persistent insomnia I am haunted by the scene of a cavernous concrete room furnished with a single bare bulb and a chipped pay phone. Whenever the phone rings, I pick it up–I have to pick it up, it’s one of those dreams–and the placid female voice from US Concepts congratulates me on my victory on the written quiz, after which she recites a stream of perversely inaccurate rock minutiae. “T. Rex’s “Rip Off,”‘ she says, “is the national anthem of Guatemala. Luther Vandross and Prince are first cousins. Cher is a man.” Well, most of it is inaccurate. As I try to absorb these facts I am besieged by elevator music, retoolings of punk and power-pop classics. If you can imagine the Sex Pistols’ “Bodies” hijacked by Muzak, you’ll understand the sickening terror of this experience. Will and Steve claim they’re not having this vision, but I know they’re just scared to come clean. Forgotten pop singers hide under my bed, brandishing their singles, itching to cut my throat. I try to count sheep and get Goats Head Soup instead.

The first afternoon in Daytona Beach, Will and Steve and I are leaving the Marriott to grab an early dinner, trying to stay loose in the face of the mounting pressure, drinking in the novelty of above-zero temperatures. As the elevator doors open at ground level, we are treated to a fantasy that puts my sleep-deprived hallucinations to shame. Dozens, maybe even hundreds, of beautiful women–scantily dressed in ribbon bikinis, thigh-baring sundresses, sheer sarongs–wander through the lobby, staring at one another coolly, rubbing elbows with ordinary hotel guests. It’s the Miss Hawaiian Tropic International pageant, a beauty contest sponsored by the suntan-lotion manufacturer. The hotel is putting up all 88 contestants, as well as 20-odd “celebrity” judges culled from the sports world (Steve Garvey, Jim Kelly, Jerry Tarkanian), the entertainment industry (Gilbert Gottfried, Mickey Dolenz, Lorenzo Lamas), and the very, very bottom of the barrel (Don Swayze? Bo Svenson? Dan Hagerty?). When Steve spots Jim Kelly we consider introducing ourselves and asking his advice on winning the big game, but instead we just loiter in the blank spaces of the lobby’s crossword and eye the taut, tanned clues. One Miss Uruguay (blond) adjusts the sash of the other (brunet). Miss Austria and Miss Germany rescue a dying bird from the sun deck. A tall, dark-skinned contestant saunters sashless through the crowd in a tiny dress the color of tumescent flesh; never have so many owed so much to fuchsia. According to a posted schedule, the pageant will be held the following afternoon, and in the evening the hotel sports bar will honor the victors with a party. We take this as an omen and vow to attend the celebration.

On the way to dinner we check out the Howard Johnson ballroom, where our contest will be held, and then we zigzag under the main pier. In the afternoon glare the stanchions of the boardwalk cast shadows in the shallows; further out, where the water clouds to green, the sun gems the cap of every wave. All around us French-cut suits and thongs command the beaches; the average Daytona tan, like the average Daytona body, is a beautiful distortion. We spend the evening filling our eyes with oiled curves and searching for the perfect jukebox–something where Ian Hunter slow-dances with Teena Marie and Hank Williams coughs himself to sleep. At about 11 we return to the Marriott patio bar, where a lone guitarist wows the crowd with good-timey acoustic stylings–lots of Buffett, Eagles, Jackson Browne, and bland blues. Half-drunk and wholly disrespectful, we take up a strategic position and begin to heckle the performer, whom Steve has dubbed Tony the Troubadour (he’s not grrrreat!). “Cold Sweat!”‘ we yell. “96 Tears!”‘ Tony ignores us, and soon we’re talking only to ourselves, imagining limp folk covers of “Tattooed Love Boys,” “When Doves Cry,” “Can I Get a Witness.” At the stroke of midnight Sky Saxon’s spirit crop-dusts the plaza, howling “Talkin’ Barnett Newman Blues” at the top of its spectral lungs.

The next day is the big day, the day of the competition, and I’m up so early I wonder if I’ve slept at all. The cloudy sky has cleared the beach, and we spend most of the morning in shops and bars, trying to relax and pretending to be interested in the charming beachfront kickshaws–key chains, T-shirts, shrunken heads wearing “Blow Me” hats. In the afternoon the resurgent sun coaxes us out to the Hawaiian Tropic pageant, where company founder Ron Rice is delivering a rambling, insincere speech about the special nature of the contest, how beauty is more than skin deep, how his judges have been instructed to appreciate character and talent as well as clock-stopping hardbodies. “Just yesterday, in fact,” Rice proclaims in a wobbly tone that suggests the ravages of sunstroke, “we gave each girl two crayons and a piece of paper, and then we let them go.” One of the contestants parades her art before the crowd, and a half-dozen guys to our left voice their aesthetic disapproval by screaming racial slurs at the top of their lungs. To call Daytona Beach misogynist is like referring to Charles Manson as eccentric or the ocean as moist. If you want to reaffirm your faith in humanity, go somewhere else.

In the wake of the pageant, good cheer is difficult to restore, and all afternoon we’re subdued. We shy away from the thonged throngs decanting gallons of beer into the Atlantic sand, refuse to meet the eyes of cruising girls, decline to sign a petition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the phrase “Headlights on for safety!” Even a classic beach culture clash–a charged exchange between a Suzuki Samurai with side-mounted Super Soakers and a trio of bony greasers leaning against an old convertible–can’t buoy our spirits. Then we see it, the Howard Johnson logo making orange noises in the early evening sky. “It’s time,” says Steve.

We go up the beach as hopefuls.

At the door to the Howard Johnson ballroom, contest organizers have stationed two guards to check for alcoholic beverages, but it looks like they’re letting plenty through–pocket flasks, hidden splits, entire cases of beer jammed into camping packs. The categories are already posted, and after Will and Steve and I say our hellos to San Jose State and Mario as well as the assorted corporate reps, we huddle in a corner and generate possible answers for “World Music,” “Duos and Trios,” “Benefits and Charities,” and “Hair.” The warm-ups and door prizes seem to drag on forever, and when we finally take the stage we’re exhausted from anxiety.

While the first question–where is Technotronic’s Felly from?–stumps both teams, we stay with the “World Music” category and answer the second question (“This soloist first used African influences for his tribute single “Biko”‘) and then the third (“What South African vocal group backed Paul Simon on his Graceland album?”). But Peter Gabriel and Ladysmith Black Mambazo do not a victory make. Streaky as ever, we parlay this initial surge into an extended honeymoon with the scoreboard. Name the MTV News anchorman who–Kurt Loder! This trio featured Noel–the Jimi Hendrix Experience! What rock promoter ran the Fillmo–Bill Graham! Ten minutes later we’re up by more than 100 points and San Jose State is still sitting at the starting line. In fact, by the time they climb out of goose-egg hell by correctly identifying the pixieish vocalist who consorted with pro wrestlers during her mid-80s heyday–that’s Cyndi Lauper–we’re perched near the 200-point mark. After being saved by Cyndi, though, they surge, muscling us out of a handful of questions, and for a moment we’re paralyzed–the last thing we want now is to relive LA from the other side. This time, though, there’s no stunning comeback in the cards, and we squash their rally with another category sweep, and another. As we near 300 our anxiety is behind us, the 400-plus crowd is behind us, and San Jose State is way behind us.

We know that if we more than double their score the final bet will be irrelevant, and as we near the end of the round that becomes a real possibility. The last six questions split evenly, and then the six of us sit tight for confirmation of the point totals. Northwestern 330, San Jose State 160. A drunken bleat of “Bet zero!” rises from the recesses of the room. We comply, name the final song anyway (Big Audio Dynamite II’s “Rush”), and then stand there calm as cans while Mario announces the consolation prizes. Then he details the grand-prize haul. We’ll each be receiving not only the car, but also an Aiwa stereo and a year’s supply of Haagen-Dazs. Thankfully, we won’t be getting another denim jacket. Still dazed, we’re escorted from the building to do some promo spots, which consist mostly of sitting in a Mustang and mustering mannequin smiles. Any impulses we have toward sarcasm or cynicism are swept away in the windfall; goofily magnanimous, we even embrace Daytona.

On the way back down the beach, we’re recognized more than once (“There’s the rock and roll guys!”), and though we stop in at a few clubs for preparatory drinking and flirting, our real destination is the Hawaiian Tropic afterparty. In the Marriott sports bar it’s business as usual, unctuous fiftysomething entrepreneurs crowding pageant contestants like slimy tongues encircling cuspids. At the bar Will and I speak to Miss Germany, who informs us that she is “fun” and “happy” as she clutches a sheaf of business cards she has collected from admirers. Miss Uruguay (blond) sits in silence, nursing some private project, while Miss Uruguay (brunet) works the floor. One of the Miss Swedens, decked out in a black baseball cap and incandescent smile, pencils her room number onto countless napkins. Protected by the glow of our victory–for those first few hours, it feels like invincibility–we stay rooted to the bar long into the night, talking, drinking, staring, every once in a while trading jokes with a woman sashed by one country or another. Tracey Wood, one of the Miss Canadas and our counterpart in triumph, never stops by to say hello.

At about 2 AM there’s a wet T-shirt contest, bar employees dutifully drenching the contestants with ice water and standing back as they shake their money-makers for the crowd. Two of the participants are Hawaiian Tropic also-rans, but many are amateurs, high school or college students working for the $100 prize. While the women grind and jiggle, the thumping sounds of C+C Music Factory simulate a party, and most of the spectators hoot with abandon. Even the few quiet ones–Will and Steve and I included–look on as if we are appraising a cutlet. As they leave the floor many of the women are shivering, and one seems to be crying, though it’s difficult to tell because the garish bar lighting grants her no face at all, only long pale arms and legs and the dark knots of her nipples showing through soaked cotton. As the crowd breathlessly awaits a winner–no doubt it will be the Belgian girl who took her pants down to midthigh and slipped a finger inside her sheer white briefs–we slink outside to the patio, where we cover for our excitement and our shame with deliberately naive talk about our winnings. When we get home, we decide, we are going to sell our new Mustangs–a nice car in Chicago, goes the proverb, is like a steak house in Calcutta–and chase our dreams with cash equivalents. Will has a new computer lined up, maybe a move to California. Steve plans to travel, live the high life for a while. And me? I’m going to produce a live album for Tony the Troubador. I’m going to call in an air strike as I leave Daytona Beach. I’m going to sleep for weeks.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos/Marc PoKempner, Paul Natkin, Guzman, Kevin Westenberg.