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.)