Life of the Party
II. Compassion Is for Girlie Men
It was the following night, night three of the convention, and Cheney was the evening's headliner. I was wearing the red-white-and-blue tie again, loose around the collar this time, and tan slacks that were slightly out of GOP character for not being pleated. I slicked my hair back again, but this time a little less severely so. I was going for the Brit Hume look.
I quickly made my way through security and went up to Level Five again. Tonight, instead of the friendly but firm Fed, there was a goofy kid, about 19 years old, standing guard. I asked him, "What's the Media Expo? Can I get in?" He looked into my stoned-red eyes and said, "You don't technically have access, but go up to Level Six and just take the stairs down a flight-try that."
I followed his instructions and had at long last found that most elusive of hang-zones: A party room with great food, free beer and Republicans galore wandering around, including Mayor Bloomberg, who is clearly quite gay. I shook his hand and introduced myself and watched Zell Miller's speech on the monitor bank. Is Zell Miller the angriest man alive? I think he just might be. I clapped along to his best lines as I slugged some beer, "Go Zell!" Compassion? Who said anything about compassion? Was that us?
I was having a great time, chowing on GOP chicken tenders, a GOP pastrami sandwich, jumbo GOP pigs in blankets, GOP pulled pork, drinking GOP Budweisers. I bellied up to a flimsy, portable bar that had been set up for the occasion. A group of Republicans in their twenties gathered around as I sat with tuned ears and a nonchalant, drunken expression.
Cheney had started his speech by now, and I clapped along to some of what he was saying, laughed at his jokes, smacked the bar once or twice in agreement. I was fully in character, except for the non-pleated slacks and the fact that, once again, I was zonked off my ass on great weed.
There was a consultant next to me named Samuel Jackson, I kid you not, straight from the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. A surfer Republican, sand-scrubbed-teeth GOPer, rocker right-winger. I wanted to run with him and his crowd as deeply into the night as I could. I listened as they ordered Heinekens, and Samuel started joking with his friend, who had "fallen asleep" in a Manhattan bar the night before. "You're proud of that," Jackson said with a big friendly laugh. I eavesdropped and watched the speech come through on the house system, in real time, and echo on CNN a moment later. I clapped some more.
The subject of Zell Miller came up among the men, someone asking, "Is he a liberal?" Sam's friend observed that the party's interest in Miller went only so far as Zig Zag's willingness to get up there as the token novelty Democrat. The heads nodded. It was a harsh and Machiavellian observation-and it was true. The crew behind the bar was all local New York energy; one wore a "Proud to Be a Unionist" button. Black, Latino and white and mixed, they were an interesting crew, too. A tie-wearing man about my age with a long, tied-back ponytail walked behind the flimsy cubist bar, and I could tell he was telling the one employee not wearing a tie to put it on. How could I let this moment pass?
"Hey," I yelled to him, "don't bother my man about wearing a tie, man!" Pony looked over at me with a shocked and amused look.
"And it's time for you to chop that ponytail off, dude!"
I was hoping the neighboring crowd would hear me; they already were talking freely, and I wanted more. Samuel Jackson, consultant, was smiling broadly. The girls had arrived.
Chipper, cheery Republican energy emanated from this crowd. They talked about the party they were going to; it would be very crowded, of course. They talked about the bands, these happy-go-lucky free-marketeers. I wanted to down red-state Jell-O shots with them, whatever it took; I wanted to reach into their hearts and see what really made 'em beat so passionately for Bush. Cheney droned on some more. The group's size had now reached the GOP-squad point-they bounced on their heels with that righteous, wild pony weirdness, the sexed-up party, unloosed in the big city. The anticipation was palpable as Cheney began to wrap it up.
I was hoping to engage Samuel's friend, since he was nearest to me. A tanned and blond young woman (we'll call her Chipper 1) was standing next to Sam now, and he was telling his friend that he should meet some of Chipper 1's friends, because they were "cute."
He then laughed and marveled to the crowd that his mid-20s friend was already married. C-1 took an avid interest, and Sam's friend whipped out the cell-camera for a digital show-tell.
I didn't see the picture, but the cheerleading Chipper spoke a thousand words when she burst out: "She's fuckin' hot, buddy. Way to pull some tail! Way to pull some ass!"
Of this quote I am sure.
I'm also sure the party was hot and crowded; I did not run with those Republicans, possibly because I broke out the Viagra pen and a small notebook within a minute of Chipper's vulgar, if pro-marriage, proclamation. It was imperative that I get the exact quote right, if only to vindicate in one line what poor Stephen Glass fabricated a bunch of years back for The New Republic. Or, maybe Republicans really were more boring when he was making up stories about debauched rich dilettantes with filthy mouths and dirty imaginations (is that what he was writing about?).
In any event, I had to write the words down immediately or I might misquote C-1, just a bit, and lose some of the incredible poetry contained in those words. I swiveled on my stool and scribbled the quote, and when I swiveled back, everyone was gone except for Sam's friend and another guy; they hunched over their drinks and I left them to it.
The Bashfest was closing now and I watched as the parade of delegates crashed through the party room. I grabbed another plate of GOP nosh and a last beer. Brooks & Dunne was introduced to great applause and began their show with a Hendrix-at-Woodstock attempt at the "Star Spangled Banner." It was a twisted and evil appropriation of Jimi's classic antiwar take and pissed me off more than anything Cheney or Miller had said that night.
"Fuck these motherfuckers," I thought, even as I grinned and waved at the departing delegates.
After a night of compassion, it had been an all-bash, all-the-time night, and everyone was smiling as they filed past.
III. The Levitation of the Garden
Bush was on deck for the final night. Yes, I got whacked on the killer weed again, but did not go to the Garden party. Instead, I sat on my balcony and watched Bush's speech on TV and listened to the protesters down on Eighth Avenue whooping it up. I could see Madison Square Garden from my perch, and waited for it to levitate to the heavens, but that did not happen.
When the show was over and the protesters had dispersed and the helicopters had split the scene, the neighborhood was so quiet you could actually hear the chirping of crickets. You could hear the gnashing of Democrats' teeth as they began to grapple with the hot and horny beast that the Grand Ol' Party had unleashed in this most decidedly liberal of liberal bastions.