Playboy Jazz Festival was a good time as usual. People always ask about the bunnies, though. That’s what you all want to know about, the bunnies. People just love Hef’s girls. And they were there, Hef’s girls. They get the very frontest table, as close to the stage as you can be, and make a late entrance. Hef in his yachtsman cap, and a string of blondes. Beautiful blondes. Tight everything. The audience cheers. Hef gives a royal wave. The bubbly flows. The girls beam. Chosen photographers circle and click. The unchosen use telephoto lenses. Fun and jazz in the sun.
The press box is maybe thirty feet back, about as close as you can get without being one of the one per cent who can afford the tables at the very, very front. That used to be a reflecting pool and swans glided to and fro as orchestras played. Jimi Hendrix wrecked everything when all the kids waded in to be closer to Him. All those cables and microphones…it might have been fried freaks. No one died but they filled in the pool with concrete not long after and let rich people sit there, popping champagne and talking through the music. I sat there once, at that very table Hef sits at, swilling two buck chuck and eating a picnic dinner. The rich people ignored us. My wife asked for a beer. Wrong kind of bubbles. Later Sergio Mendes sent out a parade of girls in feathers and spangles who shimmied and samba’d and shook themselves silly all around us. Men’s eyes popped and the wives laughed. It was a perfectly terrible show, but the girls were nice. I’ve never been in that pool circle again. I never will. Lightning strikes but once in a lifetime.
But I sit in that festival press box every chance I get. All you need is the pretty yellow ribbon that says the magic word “Press”. Ushers point the way. Security leaves you alone. You sit down and pull out a beer copped from somewhere and enjoy. It’s a great life. One year my brother and I situated ourselves in there with a bottle of wine. Wayne Shorter was on. This was not the Weather Report Wayne Shorter. This was not the Wayne Shorter who plays sappy noodling soprano sax on Brazilian pop records. No. This was Wayne Shorter lately. The Wayne Shorter who plays out, way out, way way out even, and doesn’t give a flying fuck if the audience likes it or not. Most didn’t. They talked and passed the food and drank and laughed. Scattered here and there were devotees, but you couldn’t tell if Wayne cared or not. He just kept blowing, and had an awesome quartet, and it was one of the greatest things I ever saw at the Playboy Jazz Festival. My brother and I sat there drinking wine all alone, and not believing how cool this was. But I bring this up not because it was such an incredible jazz moment, but because there was a scurry of people and suddenly, in the box next to us, was Miss California. This was the year that the first Miss California said such awful things about gay people–she really didn’t like them–and felt the whole weight of the internet on her pretty little shoulders. They tore that sash off her so fast, and she went on Fox News hissing and grumbling and threatening lawsuits and being perfectly awful. The Miss USA people found a runner up and declared her the real Miss California. Outrage and hysteria ensued. Well, this new Miss California was ushered into the box next to us. Photographers circled like hyenas. She looked overwhelmed. She was terribly pretty and very classy, quite dignified. She sat next to me. An equally pretty friend joined her, and two very handsome dates followed. The guys sat as far forward in the box as they could get and watched Wayne Shorter with an intensity you didn’t see a lot of around us. After each piece they applauded loudly. Either these two were serious jazz fans or all the weirdness surrounding the new Miss California had driven them into an appreciation of Wayne Shorter at his most avant garde. Whatever the case, I was impressed. Maybe the champagne they were provided with helped. Like everyone else around her, I couldn’t help myself and leaned over the partition and spoke to Miss California. I can’t remember what I said, but it was something to the effect of how she was handling this with so much class. She smiled and said thank you.. She said that to everybody. She had to. It’s her job.
After twenty minutes or so the handlers came and took her off. I saw her later giving her umpteenth interview of the day, unflagging. You wouldn’t think you’d need to feel pity for a beauty queen, but I did a little. I heard some idiot reporter ask her if she also opposed gay marriage. She answered gracefully no, she didn’t. The idiot reporter had a follow up. He asked her if she supported gay marriage. She replied gracefully that yes, she did.
But this past Saturday they were no beauty queens. Just former Playmates. That was their designation, former Playmates. George Lopez gave them a shout out, the former Playmates. No names. Not even months, just formers. They filled the box like rambunctious kittens. They wore matching pink outfits, little pinks shorts, little pink tee shirts. Former Playmates I think the tee shirts said. I think the socks were pink too. Photographers hovered like gnats. They do know how to pose, those former Playmates. They’d see a camera pointing at them, freeze, smile, get a thumbs up from the photographer and exhale. This went on for hours. Sometimes they’d dart up to Hef’s table. More pictures. They gamboled about and giggled and posed and seem to be having a helluva time. Later they slipped into the press room a couple at a time to escape, and eat and act like real people. Then back out to the Playmate box to work.
They seemed like nice girls. One was older, sort of like a den mother. A beautiful den mother. It’s a different world, theirs, those former Playmates. I wondered what they did for a living. Were they secretaries or executives or work with handicapped children? Do they still like chocolate and long walks on the beach?
Once in the press room a few years back I was trapped by Crystal Harris. This was before she was Crystal Hefner. Or before she was almost Crystal Hefner, then just Crystal Harris, and then Crystal Hefner. It’s a complicated story. I wrote about the moment here. Me and a bunch of idiot reporters and television cameras and a big floppy pink hat. Pink again. Always with the pink, these former Playmates. Amid the excitement an entertainment news reporter inadvertently shoved her vast breast augmentation into my face, nearly knocking me out of my chair. It was like being pummeled by the Hindenburg. By two Hindenburgs. Oh the humanity. This never happened at other jazz festivals.
OK, there you go. Playmates at the Playboy Jazz Festival. And a beauty queen for good measure. Now you know. You always ask about the Mansion, too. Yes, the press conference is at the Playboy Mansion. Yes, it’s beautiful. The pool, the grotto. The private zoo. But no bunnies. None. Not a one. I looked. But even the bartenders were dudes.