Ah, the political season. Swaying chandeliers casting crystalline glares across the movers and shakers of sound-bite polemics. Crested, folded napkins wedged into snifters, wilting in the drunken haze of chortled exchanges more revealing than they ought to be. Knowing gazes and frowning throat-clearings punctuating perfectly orchestrated gala affairs full of couples waltzing the networking-mingle waltz of getting ahead and, quite possibly, getting some head while they're at it. "Oh, senator, you're so naughty," etc. This is heaven.
Oh, wait. This is June in Orlando: rain, rumble, rain, rumble, nothing.
But such soggy stasis hasn't affected my friend Jeff Horn's seemingly premature political ambition. No, sir. Tonight Horn kicks off his campaign for city commissioner, District 3, with a swanky fund-raiser at the name-appropriate Club Swank, and I've interrupted my regularly scheduled couch-bound lethargy to make an appearance. The election isn't until next March, and I'm as political as a sequined shoe, but I'd be remiss if I didn't make my support known to somebody so supportive (advice, cocktails) during my own almost-campaign for mayor. Besides, Vicki Vargo is about as appealing as Shirley Feeney on a whiskey bender at a Christian retreat, and seeing as I'm not in her district, I have to do something to register my Laverne distaste. It's my fag duty.
"I knew you'd be here," flourishes bar owner Leesa Halstead Franzen. "You nouveau politico, you," followed by a hoped-for "We have liquor now."
Because that's why she really knew I'd be here. Anyway, I've enlisted Alan and our friend Chris to decorate my arms at the soiree, but apparently forgotten that the term "soiree" that I've cooked up in my head typically means something other than wearing khakis and collars. Admirably, Horn has dressed up his affair: He and his legion of about five or so campaign volunteers are all sporting blazers and ties. We, however, are dressed for brass-bar fried foods. Ooooh, tacky.
"That's OK," Horn smiles a burgeoning politico smile. "For this event I've invited friends and family, people of influence which you are …"
Of course, here I light up like JonBenet Ramsey.
"And some wealthy people."
"I figure we need to raise about $3,000 to get this thing started," he says, citing the expenses for website development, design and assorted vanity paraphernalia. "But you already had that when you started. How did you do that?"
"I slept with that," I roll my eyes in the direction of Alan.
Anyway, Horn goes on to tell me that he actually announced his intention to run before my own campaign, but put it all on the back burner because he thought that Billy Manes for Mayor was far too important a prospect to ignore. To which I can only offer a "That's so sweet!" before clearing my throat and feeling invalid.
Horn, however, is quite valid, having volunteered for decades in the Parramore area and shrewdly keeping his elbows rubbed by commissioner friends Patty Sheehan and Daisy Lynum. He's also a tennis instructor. He's the me I should have been, had I not been the me who liked to throw fund-raisers at bars. Oh, wait. He's throwing a fund-raiser in a bar. Hmph.
Niceties exchanged, my crew and I set out to do whatever it is you do at a bar basically drinking and talking and hearing nothing. Every now and then Chris, who's an eternal optimist with an unlikely bent for economic development, flips his Peter Brady hair and says something like, "That's kinda cool," while Alan and I reside in our wedded silence.
Presently, Chris is stuck on saying "Swank" over and over again for effect, which he thinks is kinda cool.
"It feels a little bit like we're in a hotel bar," he offers. "That's kinda cool."
For most of our evening, we're joined by a presently unemployed event coordinator for the Young Democrats named Keisha. Now, Keisha is a force of energy not to be ignored, a bright red blazer of a gal with more than enough to say and the histrionics to back it up. She's leaning heavily on her martini, and if I look really close, may or may not be getting a bit inebriated. She bums a smoke, and I give her the rest of my pack, mostly because she works the unemployment angle again. Such is the state of the Democratic party in 2005. I fit in perfectly.
"She's kinda cool," chuffs Chris.
Yeah, she is. So is the fact that everybody who comes in feels the need to waltz up to the giant city map at the front of the bar and point out to whoever's listening exactly where it is that they live. It's a little like seventh grade, except some of the people are wearing ties. Keisha introduces us to her friend Franco up by the map, who insists that he is a Puerto RicanÐItalian redneck while mustering up something resembling a drawl on "y'all." Again, the Democratic party.
A couple of hors d'oeuvres potstickers, brie puffs later, and I'm longing for some sort of nonpartisan setting. So, as a grand non sequitur, Alan, Chris and I bid our farewells and head out the door to eat at TGI Fridays. Why? Because I have a gift certificate there, and because I'm a poor Democrat.
Once there, Chris lays in again. "I can't help but think it's kinda cool, seeing the regular people eating the regular food at a place like Fridays," he says. "But I didn't think I'd ever see ‘Billy Manes' eating here."
You don't. I'm invisible. Clearly, I'm on assignment for something. Something vaguely pol- itical.
"I guess that's kinda cool."
No. No, it's not.