As I See It: IT At Play
August 25, 2014 Victor Rozek
Daniel Borson has a dream. It’s an unusual dream to be sure, shared only by a select few. In fact, just 31 others have achieved it, some by what can only be described as dubious means. But when you stalk great honor, you must be willing to rise above convention. Which in this case is not a problem. Daniel Borson wants to be a SLUG Queen, a dream that bears less resemblance to Dr. King than to Dr. Seuss.
Borson works in IT as a developer/analyst for the local water and electric utility. He has the distinction of having gone to high school with Jack Abramoff, which may be where he first learned to dream big. With a solid background in energy management policy, conservation, and quantitative analysis, you’d think he would have emerged as a solid, sober pillar of the community. Well, he has. It’s just that his community happens to be Eugene, Oregon.
Eugene, it has been said, is somewhere Northwest of normal. On the one hand, it’s a college town, so it enjoys a steady infusion of youth and energy. But it is also one of the last thriving enclaves of people who were probably once called Beatniks, then morphed into Hippies, and eventually wore down and assimilated into that vast eclectic known as Boomers. And although most outgrew their rebellious labels, they still embody an era when people were cool, not the devices they carried.
These folks are playful, irreverent, and counter-culturally inclined. So back in 1983, when the city of Eugene opened a theater-arts complex and wanted to celebrate the event, they suggested calling it “Slugfest” in honor of the slimy-crawlies that thrived here before microbreweries took hold. Alas, less imaginative minds prevailed, and an annual event called The Eugene Celebration was born.
But the Slugfest folks decided to hold their own celebration. From that decision arose an institution that now rivals the U.S. Congress in its power to champion corruption: the Society for the Legitimization of the Ubiquitous Gastropod, SLUG for short. (More on corruption later.) If the city proposed to hold a parade, they would elect a SLUG Queen to reign over the proceedings. It was an anti-beauty pageant, requiring minimal talent but an abundance of heart, plenty of showmanship, and queenly regalia that embodies the finest in tacky-gaudy glamour.
The city loved it, and each year thereafter a heated public competition has been held to anoint a new Queen. She, or he, (this is Eugene, after all, and there are seven men counted among past winners) is selected by celebrity judges and a gaggle of Old Queens. (Tradition dictates that they are always referred to as Old Queens, never former Queens.) And the winner reigns over her adoring minions like Kalisi gone vegan, sporting slugs instead of dragons.
There’s really only one rule for contestants, and it follows the most revered tradition in American politics: Bribe Early, and Bribe Often. Which is how I ended up at a local winery where, in a fine example of subornment, Daniel was hosting a pre-competition event. In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t invited because of my sterling good looks or matchless writing skills. I happen to be consort to Queen Inspira Gastropodium (the first of her name), now a Very Old Queen (meaning that more than ten years have passed since her reign), so I rode the slime trail of royalty straight to the wine bar.
Daniel, it turns out, has more charm than a box full of puppies. This will be his fifth attempt to reach the slimy pinnacle of Eugene celebrity, and he works the room of Old Queens like Bill Clinton working a room full of interns. The wine flows and with every glass I drink he seems more charming still. Platters of food disappear, empty bottles clutter tabletops, and two weeks before the competition, Daniel has moved beyond the siren bribing properties of chocolate and orchestrated one of the more memorable bribes in recent history. The Abramoff influence is unmistakable.
Those who have become strangers to the art of play are probably shaking their heads in bewilderment. But people who have forgotten how to play tend to develop mean and angry dispositions, like Dick Cheney who appears to be about as much fun as a snakebite. In fact, psychologists who have studied psychopaths claim they all have one thing in common: they never played as children. I’ll bet old Dick never ran for SLUG Queen.
Besides, if you’re in IT you need to find an occasional release because, IT rhymes with stress. OK, not so much if you’re a literalist. Think E.E. Cummings who wasn’t too fastidious about that sort of thing. Computers, those little plastic-covered code dispensers, have no mercy and no conscience. They don’t care if you drop dead during your 38th consecutive hour of coding. And they reflect every single programming error like portable versions of the Last Judgment. They know nothing of fun. They can be idle, but never lazy; they have games, but they don’t play. They’ll suffocate you if you let them.
Beyond having fun, running for SLUG Queen also provides a platform for advocacy. Over the years, Queens have promoted rights for the disabled (one Old Queen has cerebral palsy), art in the schools, and girls in science. They’ve provided assistance for animal shelters and food banks. They host events, raise money, heighten awareness, and everyone involved enjoys themselves and perhaps notices that people can do serious things while not taking themselves so damned seriously.
It’s the night of the competition, and performers send out delegations of bribers to make sure no judge is left unturned. I score some Honey Brandy before a gal in a giant bee suit realizes I can’t help her entrant with the voting. I try to get a second helping but she recognizes me and threatens me with her stinger.
Daniel may be short in stature but he is tall in talent. He runs as Professor Bulbusslimebordor and wows the audience in a self-deprecating musical retrospective of his four former failures to stand alone in the slimelight. This time, the crown is his. The crowd goes crazy. Daniel looks happier than Kim Kardashian in front of a mirror. He tells the audience he’s about to have a Sally Fields moment.
After the competition is over, Daniel and the Old Queens go out for a bite in full regalia. People bow, pay homage, and take pictures. At one point Daniel tells me that in the second grade he remembers really, really wanting to be cast as Hansel in a production of Hansel and Gretel, but another little boy, Garry got the part. “I think I’ve been trying to prove I’m better than Garry ever since,” laughs Daniel.
Well, how do you like Daniel now, Garry? On behalf of all of us whose dreams were ripped away by the Garrys of the world: Eat slime and die.