Aden competes for a spot in ‘Best Looking Men’ fundraising calendar to help the Boom Boom Room.
A couple weeks ago, Fred Karger — the leader in the effort to keep the Boom Boom Room, Laguna’s landmark gay establishment, intact — announced his organization, Save the Boom, would be holding an open casting call for models to be in the Men of Laguna Beach 2008 Calendar. The calendar will publicize the cause and raise money for it.
When I was assigned to cover the story, I never thought I would be competing for a spot in the calendar. That all changed in a hurry.
It started as a joke about auditioning. The casting call was in search of Laguna Beach’s “Best Looking Men,” which I can guarantee you, I’m not. I was musing about the possibility of a goofy-looking, overweight fellow with glasses and no fashion sense whatsoever going out for a stud contest, and then it hit me:
How could I convey what the contestants were going through on stage without actually going through it myself?
The contest was open to men 18 and older, gay or straight, who lived or worked in Laguna Beach, so I qualified.
But before entering, I ran the idea past Karger, and my editors. Karger was gracious enough to let me compete as a reporter. I’m thankful he did because I got to experience the Boom Boom Room in a completely different way than I had before — not as an outside observer but as a participant in a preservation movement.
For those who have never been to the Boom Boom Room, it’s a gay bar at 1401 S. Coast Highway that has a great liquor selection and is one of the longest continuously operated gay establishments in the United States. Karger said the Boom has been an open and welcoming environment for people of all orientations for more than 60 years.
The bar was sold more than a year ago, and the new owner planned to shut its doors but gave the place a year’s reprieve in which time Karger launched his effort to preserve it as a piece of Laguna — and gay cultural — history.
The calendar sales are planned to go to the Boom’s preservation effort as well as local charities.
Saturday’s competition was an experience of a lifetime. Karger set it up like a talent contest. There was a panel of Hollywood judges including actresses Heather and Nicholle Tom, TV casting producers Paul Weber and Ethan Peterson, and producer Stan Zimmerman.
Contestants walked the stage and answered the judges’ questions. The top 20 out of the more than 30 hats in the ring were chosen after the contest. The 20 will all have photo shoots with celebrity photographer Cris Lapp. From those photos, the top 12 will be chosen.
The top three contestants will also be awarded cash prizes. Originally, the prizes were $500 for first place, $250 for second and $100 for third but Lagunan Peter Montgomery donated an extra $500 to the first place winner, making the top prize an impressive $1,000.
Karger said he was seeking high-caliber talent and so he brought in high-caliber people to judge and photograph.
“We want to really make the best calendar we can,” Karger said.
Looking around at the contestants, I realized I didn’t have a prayer. All were attractive, sporty men. It was like being an island of flab in a sea of pecs and abs.
The only thing to do was to go up and have a good time, so that’s what I did.
Some of the performances put on by the contestants were impressive.
Ray Cook did a backward hand spring which earned hoots and cheers from the packed bar. One group of five men from San Diego competed as a unit, all wearing different colored matching briefs.
Tying the whole show together was Miss Dede Rutherford, the master of ceremonies and a Laguna drag legend.
Rutherford was energetic and funny and kept the show clipping along with a spirited attitude.
Some contestants were more nervous than others. Cook said he had butterflies at first but he decided to do his thing and forget about it.
“It was fun,” Cook said. “I knew the gymnastics were coming and I was confident with that.”
Jonathan Montgomery said he’s been active at the bar for years and he was competing to support the preservation effort.
“I’m here to support Fred however it goes,” Montgomery said.
Karger said he was very excited about the results of the contest.
“It exceeded my wildest expectations,” Karger said.
As for my part, I just tried to have fun and smile at the judges. After all, beauty pageants aren’t won by frowners.
After I paraded onstage, I was asked by the judges what month I would want to be in the calendar.
“August, ‘cause it’s the hottest,” I said.
After the small spattering of chuckles died down, the next judge said if I was to be August I’d have to go shirtless. Though my days of going shirtless in public are far behind me, I obliged and got a cheer from the crowd, which was flattering. My cheeks were bright red.
After a few handshakes I began to think about what I’d just taken part in. As a journalist, part of my job is to write the first draft of history. The Boom Boom Room is a living artifact that has for decades provided a place for people to simply be who they are. It’s played a role in the gay rights movement. It deserves to be remembered and experienced by generations to come.
I walked away glad I had been a part, knowing the experience was over and I would have a good story to tell.
But I was wrong about it being over.
I got a message later that day from Karger letting me know the judges had selected me as a finalist and I’d better get ready for a photo shoot. Apparently, I was wrong about not having a shot.
The photos are scheduled to be taken around Laguna Beach throughout the next couple weeks and the top 12 who will make the calendar, as well as the prize money winners, will be announced in mid-August.
As for whether my mug will end up in the calendar, only time will tell.