Okay, first let it be understood that award shows are to Hollywood as Hollywood is to normal human behavior. That said, it was still really bizarre. The thought that kept going through my head the whole evening was, “Reality has LEFT the building.”
As most adventures do, ours started unremarkably, I mean, unremarkably for an event where you all climb into a limousine with your wife dressed to the nines. I was dressed to somewhere around the six and a halves, but the other Valve guys were exquisitely indifferent to the demands of fashion . . . or were they??? Each had on a sport coat from beneath which sprouted the untucked shirt tails of the devout west-coast proletarian innovator/entrepreneur and the blue jeans legitimized by billionaire nerds. The statement they made was unmistakable: We actually do things. We don’t need to look important, we are important. They made me feel like a counter-revolutionary in my black slacks and moderately expensive belt. The conversation on the way was laced with sentences like, “Does anybody know what we’re supposed to do when we get there?” and “I hope we’re not too early. I don’t want us to look desperate.” All these thoughts were predicated on the assumption that the People in Charge had a Plan.
As we rolled through the Art Deco gates of the fabled MGM Studios (now owned by Sony) I think we all knew that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. The driver started to look for other limos and someone in a hat motioned us down a narrow alley lined with what anywhere else would be described as shabby warehouses but were actually sound stages. They were all painted pristinely white, which made them look like shabby warehouses painted pristinely white.
A crowd of people filled the pavement ahead and we knew we had arrived. Climbing out of the limo I saw a white inflated archway that made me think of the bouncy rooms they blow up for kids at state fairs and strip mall parking lots, but this portentous portable portico led to the Red Carpet! Which was white, too. They seemed to have a thing for white. It was lined with ravenous paparazzi dressed in black who exhorted us to “Look right in here! That’s it!” Ellen and I were the focus of dozens of lenses each owned by someone hoping to make a sale to some gaming mag or show biz tattler. As we moved down the carpet we were guided by a friendly woman toward various people who wanted to interview the voice of GLaDOS. Ellen was her gracious self, answering questions with freshness and humor sprinkled with her bell-like laughter. I was very proud of her but not at all surprised. As we moved toward the end of the carpet our contact with Spike TV found us and reminded us that Ellen was going to be interviewed on the carpet at 4:35, “because (keep this quiet) you’ve won.” That’s how we found out. Just kind of standing around on the white Red Carpet with a bunch of other people who were just kind of standing around.
It was 3:10. Where could we go while we waited for the interview? Well, kind of nowhere. We couldn’t go into the studio because we couldn’t get back out. We couldn’t wait in the Green Room because that was just for paid presenters. We kind of had to hang there at the end of the white Red Carpet for the next 80 minutes. So we got to know a couple of the security guards pretty well. One of them brought a folding chair for Ellen to sit in. As we watched other people go in it began to become apparent that it was only 58 degrees outside. I gave Ellen my jacket. Paid Presenters started to arrive. I swear I did not see more than three women with inseams shorter than 40 inches or hips larger than 22. It was like being on an alien planet. And the shoes! Nobody and I mean NObody with two x chromosomes was wearing anything shorter than a six inch heel. These stratospherically-legged women felt the need to enhance their limb length by donning fashionable prosthetics.
Over an hour and several celebrities later (Ellen had her pic taken with Mark Hamill and got a great shot of Hulk Hogan’s back) we were summoned to a raised circle where she would be presented with her award. After holding it for a ninety second chat with a couple of attractive young people who presented it to her she had to present it back (not on camera). Her actual statuette would be engraved with her name and shipped to her at a later date. The award was just a prop that was used over and over to each person who won.
But we could finally go inside! We made our way into the cavernous sound stage that was already rockin’. In the techno-rock din and chaos our seats were not to be found. We figured, since Ellen had won best actress they’d want her pretty close to the front. Nope. Not even the middle. Friendly but hurried ushers guided us up to the bleachers in the back to sit and wonder how Ellen was going to make it back down to the stage. We told people that she was a nominee. They
replied that they had a plan if she won (we still weren’t supposed to tell anyone). So we sat and ate some very unfortunate food and avoided drinking Jim Beam and Dr. Pepper in plastic cups (no kidding) while we watched what everyone at home watched: a two hour commercial for future video games with only the briefest and rarest interruptions to present an award. I believe only three awards were actually presented during the show. Even though Portal 2 won best PC game, best Multi-player, best performance by a human male, best performance by a human female and best Downloadable Content, a total of five awards, no one from Valve ever took the stage. No acceptance speeches, nothing but a five second clip in which all the awards Portal 2 had won were listed.
But don’t get me wrong, we had a great time. We truly did. It was very entertaining in a sort of apocalyptic-end times-we-don’t-know-what-to-do-but-we’re-gonna-do-it-loud-and-frenetic kind of way. It was a wonderful, exciting, and absolutely weird experience and I’m so thankful that Ellen and I got to go. To spend time with our friends at Valve and peer into the heart of Hollywood and the bowels of the entertainment industry was thrilling, unique and unforgettable. We’re so glad to be back home.