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 top prizes, 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 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 offered 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 one of those super-ceremonies, Madonna arrived with none other than Michael Jackson on her arm. That counted as scandalous 18 years ago.
In Kevin Costner's acceptance speech for Dances, he told the crowd that although everyone forgets the Oscar-winning films year after year, he swore he wouldn't. Well, that's easy for you to say, Kevin -- you've got an eight-pound personalized gold-plated naked man-shaped paperweight to remind you.
What I remember most is not actually who I saw at the Oscars, but who I brought. Consider: An unemployed, unattached 22 year-old man has the chance to pick any beautiful stranger in L.A. to accompany him to the most celebrated affair of the year... and he invites his own mother. Twice.
But I couldn't resist seeing my mom's star-struck face after possibly shaking hands 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 stretch limousines like the dot in a division symbol. I was wearing an ill-fitting 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 mentioned to the salesperson. And the manager. And the security guard.
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 Goodfellas statuette in hand. (I've since encouraged her to recast the memory with Al Pacino in the lead.)
At the next Oscar go-round, we planted our feet on the carpet and stood our ground. Everyone who was anyone in Hollywood maneuvered around mom and me that night: Tim and Susan, Tom and Nicole, even Barbra. BARBRA.
"Don't point -- it's conspicuous," I told my mom as I retied the imaginary laces of my shiny slip-ons.
As star-studded as it was, the red carpet moment also had a strong and indulgent Sodom and Gomorrah-like vibe. I told my mom not to look back for fear she would turn instantly to salt.
When the show finally ended, we were famished. But there were 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. Onlookers may have thought we were some obscure documentary or sound-editing team, dreams dashed, taking out our frustration out on a strawberry-drizzled calorie bomb. Indeed it was the most delicious moment of the night.
In the years that followed, I saw fewer and fewer movies, had no Oscar favorites and little at stake. I stopped calling my Mom on Oscar's Eve and even swore off Oscar office pools. "You should try the Oscar pool at the Academy," I'd scoff. "Slip up on 'Best Animated 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, and have reinvented my traditions. Forget the limos, the red carpet, the deep cleavage dresses, and the amorous wiseguys. This Sunday, I'm happy enough to plop in front of the TV with my wife, sip Pinot Grigio from plastic tumblers, talk about enjoying Let Me In so much more than The Social Network, and enjoy Oscar Night on my own terms... or at least in my underwear.
Joel Schwartzberg is an award-winning essayist and author of the humor collection "The 40-Year-Old Version"