I attended the Academy Awards in 1991 and 1992. You may remember them as the years Dances with Wolves and The Silence of the Lambs took home multiple awards, but it's more likely you don't remember them at all.
I didn't go as a nominee -- that kind of honor is reserved for esteemed luminaries like Borat, Three 6 Mafia, and kids who cry on cue. No, for two years I went to the Oscars as a full-time employee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
Whereas most L.A. office jobs offer a 401K plan and all the tiny cups of water you can drink, the Academy offers each of its employees a unique perk: two tickets to the biggest, most exclusive, most star-studded awards show on the planet.
I remember only a few moments from the shows themselves. In his acceptance speech for Dances, Kevin Costner said that everyone forgets the Oscar-winning films year after year, but he swore he wouldn't. Well, that's easy for Kevin to say -- he's got an eight pound, gold-plated naked man with his name on it holding down the utility bills to remind him.
I also remember Madonna arriving at the ceremony with Michael Jackson on her arm. That counted as scandalous 18 years ago.
What I remember much more clearly is squandering the dating opportunity of a lifetime by inviting my mother to both events. Consider: an unemployed, 22-year-old man living in someone else's living room now has the chance to pick any beautiful stranger in Los Angeles to accompany him to the most celebrated affair of the year.
But being my mom is as big a movie fan as I am, I couldn't resist seeing her star-struck face after brushing elbows with Bette Midler, Harrison Ford or -- as it eventually turned out -- Alan Dershowitz (there in 1991 for Reversal of Fortune.)
I remember how we crammed ourselves into my cherry red Mazda hatchback, then sat in line between black stretch limousines like the dot in a division symbol. I was wearing a standard rented tuxedo. My Mom wore borrowed earrings and a blue sequined dress she got from a shop in Boca Raton.
"It's for the Academy Awards," she had to mention to the salesperson. Several times.
The first time around at the Oscars, we hustled down the red carpet as if catching a flight. Feeling like impostors, we passed on an invitation to share an elevator with Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford, who are even more mismatched in height than you've been led to believe.
In a story I can't possibly validate, my mother swears Joe Pesci hit on her outside the ladies' room, his recently-acquired Oscar for Goodfellas in hand. (I've since encouraged her to recast the memory with Al Pacino.)
At the next Oscar go-round, we planted our feet firmly on the carpet and stood our ground. Everyone who's anyone in Hollywood had to maneuver around me and my mom that night: Tim and Susan, Tom and Nicole, even Barbra.
"Just don't point," I told my mom as I pretended to tie the laces of my slip-on shoes for the thirteenth time.
As glittery as it was, the red carpet moment also had a Sodom and Gomorrah-like self-indulgent quality to it, so much so that as we finally walked inside, I told my mom not to look back for fear she would instantly turn to salt.
Immediately following the three-hour extravaganza, we were famished. But there'd be no Governor's Ball tickets for us. No Wolfgang Puck appetizers. No sitting in the back corner of a tent sucking down Cristal with mid-level studio execs, B-list movie stars, and Hollywood wannabes.
Instead, we ultimately found ourselves the best-dressed patrons of the Rodeo Drive Cheesecake Factory, ignoring but also savoring the curious stares of our fellow billion-calorie dessert lovers. They may have thought we were some obscure documentary or sound-editing team whose dreams were dashed after not hearing our names called out. Good thing that place was open because I can't imagine getting the same attention at Denny's.
In the years that followed, I saw fewer and fewer movies, so I had no Oscar favorites to root for, and nothing at stake. For a long time, I even swore off Oscar office pools. I'd scoff snidely, "You should see the Oscar pool at the Academy. Make a wrong prediction for Best Animated Short Documentary Sound Mixing and you're toast!"
But now, with the whole experience so far behind me, I've begun to see the Academy Awards anew. Forget the limos, the red carpet, the deep cleavage dresses, and the amorous wiseguys. I'm happy enough to plop in front of the TV with my wife and cats, sip Pinot Grigio from plastic tumblers, and start enjoying Oscar Night on my own terms...or at least in my underwear.