Life of the Party
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.
Then again, there was no one up here, just a bunch of stamps. I hit the elevator button to go back downstairs and almost slammed into a cop getting out on my floor. He might have been looking for me, he might not have been. But he apologized as he vrooomed by, I straightened my tie and smiled, and headed all the way downstairs to the Bell South Media Lounge.
That had a tempting ring to it. I imagined seasoned political reporters gathered around, regaling one another with tales of conventions past, a classic gaggle of loose-tie correspondents, with Dan Rather sipping Kentucky Bourbon as he handicapped the election, along those lines. Instead it was a lame, tiny little room with free Amstel Lights, Heinekens and Doritos.
Ahhhhhhhhhnold was giving his speech now, and the girlie men of the media hovered around their computers and TV monitors watching it. What a snooze. Enough of this garbage. I went back to the bridge, emptied my pockets, got frisked and wanded, banged into the metal detector and set it off, went through it again and then somehow made a wrong turn, missed the bridge and wound up going through the same security checkpoint again. "Must've been those beers I had," I told the Fed with the amused, if cocked, eyebrow as I continued my quest for that confounded bridge.
The second time through, I found it. Upstairs I went, this time to Level Seven. The cute Bush twins were warming the stage for Mom and the crowd was mostly back in the bowl checking for signs of cleavage, a brain-pulse or whatever--the Level Seven hallways were largely empty.
Up ahead of me I saw a little slip of a man with a kindly face, yammering into a cellphone. "Gary Bauer!" I shouted.
Sure enough, it was my favorite born-again Christian closet-case. Bauer stopped and smiled at me. I went right over to him and grabbed his hand. "Peace to you, my brother!" I burst out. He said, "Let me call you back" to the gay masseuse on the other end of the line.
"No, no," I said. "Don't worry about it, finish your call." I gave him the peace/victory sign and was on my way.
It being compassion night, I did feel a certain empathy for the First Lady as I watched from the wings as she gave her speech. Talk about "stand by your man." When she finished, I joined the throng of delegates as they began to file out of the building.
"Wasn't Arnold's speech great!" I shouted to a middle-aged couple, who, it turned out, were meth-addicted swingers from Virginia. No they weren't, but they were from Virginia. They also had a whole pile of convention signage, and I offered the husband 20 bucks for his "People of Compassion" sign. "Oh, we loved his speech! Here, we have a whole bunch of these," the wife said, and peeled a "People of Compassion" sign and a "W Stands for Women" sign for me.
I thanked them profusely and moved on to another mark, a trio of hairy-armpitted lesbian GOP radicals from California sporting see-through blouses through which could be seen their gold doorknocker nipple rings and wearing buttons that read "Carpet-munching and Carpet-bombing Are American Values" and "Read My Labia: No New Taxes."
They were from California, that much is true. "Wasn't Arnold's speech greaaaaaat!" I shouted to them. "Oh, yes, yes, we loved it, we love Arnold." "How much do you want for one of those signs?"
"Oh, we've got plenty of them, here you go." And I completed the signage trifecta with a much-desired Arnold! placard.
I walked down Seventh Avenue with my signs and a group of young liberal protesters having a repast at Mustang Sally's started chanting at me, "Kerry! Kerry! Kerry!"
I joined them in their shout-out, which sorta freaked them out.