I. It’s My Birthday and I’ll Lie if I Need To
It was my 37th birthday and I wanted to celebrate, but the only party around was up the block from my apartment, at Madison Square Garden. I prepared for it by morphing into GOP mode–slicked back my hair, threw on a black suit, put on an American flag tie, shined my shoes, shot my cuffs. I smoked a big fat birthday joint. I was going to the RNC! Hoo-boy!
I left the apartment, buzzing along, and showed my ID a half-dozen or so times to various friendly officers of the law (as it turned out, the security phalanx did an even better job of evoking 9/11 than the convention speakers did–the so-called secure frozen zone looked and felt exactly the way the area around Ground Zero did in the weeks following 9/11). I emptied my pockets, accepted compliments for my tie and was finally turned loose inside the Garden party.
It was Tuesday night, August 31, 2004, and the theme for the night was “compassion.” I did my part. My “Limited Access” media pass meant I couldn’t get onto floor itself, but I was able to watch whatever speeches I wanted from the wings. I went up to Level Five on the escalator, was told I couldn’t go into that floor’s “Media Expo” area by a serious but friendly Fed and wandered around Level Six listening to Education Secretary Rod Paige sham his way through a vigorous defense of No Child Left Behind. I circled the Garden bowl once, and on my second pass, noticed a bulky ensemble of GOPeople headed my way. There was a little commotion, as Bob Dole was in the center of the group.
“We love you, Senator Dole!” I shouted. He gave me a little wave and whisked on by. These Republicans are a bunch of bustlers, I’ll tell you that. They also showed themselves to be shrewd, hard-hitting, hierarchical, bold, loose, angry, violent, loving, kind, hateful, loud, focused, fashion-conscious, fashion-challenged. They’re busybodies on a mission, accomplished or not (Not!). They cheat, manipulate, engage in gotcha politics to an astounding, and astoundingly effective, degree. They also seem to be larger, on average, than Democrats. They are big people, many of them. Every so often I’d be walking along, zonked on the ace weed I’d smoked, enjoying the colorful scenery, and vrooooooom, here’d come a whole pack of them, a squad, looking straight ahead, clacking heels, swishing slacks. Goddammit, they were an impressive array. There were beautiful young women in sensible pink dresses, blue dresses, red dresses; there were marauding pot-bellied Midwesterners galore, jaws so square you might cut ice on them; a half-bazillion Stetsons bobbing around. (Manhattan hasn’t seen this many cowboy hats since John Travolta rode the bull in Urban Cowboy some twenty-five years ago.)
I went downstairs, over the temporary, $1 million bridge at Eighth Avenue, and spent a roundabout hour exploring the backwoods of the huge media center across the street from the Garden, in the Farley Post Office. A couple of things stood out to me down there. First of all, the UPI booth was so small its reporter had to sit outside it in order to file his stories to the 2.4 media outlets that still use the dispatches from this once-mighty organization. Second, Fox News should get the fuck over itself. While every other news organization separated itself from its neighbors via blue curtains, the Fox section had full-on walls encasing its reporters. Third, for whatever reason, there wasn’t much in the way of security at Farley. I got into an elevator and went to the top floor and wandered around the empty hallways of the Post Office for a while. I could’ve gotten onto the roof if I’d wanted. It seemed weird to me that with forty-two police officers and agents on every corner, a stoned man with a heavy, pharma-swag Viagra weapon-pen could wander around with impunity.