Nothing happens in Orlando except Disney and boy bands," huffs some Kimberly from Channel 6, huddled with the rest of us press hacks Wednesday, Aug. 16, in the three square feet or so of shade offered by the Ronald McDonald House at 1 p.m.
Disney, boy bands and sickness, maybe.
Hot on the studded heels of Howie Durough's Lupus campaign, the creative folks at the Johnny Wright compound have opted for a similarly philanthropic publicity flash: They've redecorated one of the Ronald McDonald House's rooms with pillows, posters and other cheeky shwag from Orlando's own 'N Sync. What's more, the boys are set to receive the keys to the city, and our collective hearts, from our own soccer-mom mayor in just about 20 minutes (or is it 15?). Could you just die?
About 500 squealing girls in soaked "Justin, I love you" iron-on Ts just might if somebody doesn't spray something, and soon. Some of the loyalists have been standing here since 3:30 a.m., and the little darlings are beginning to get restless. "Hey you!" screams one of the Britneys from behind me. "You guy in the black shirt!" Knowing better than to humor a girl on a puberty mission, I feign deafness for as long as my own vanity will allow. Eventually I'm forced into eye contact with some poorly applied white eyeliner, and made the object of a fairly offensive bit of flirtation. "What can I do to get some of your Sprite?"
To her right stands a gaggle of more business-minded ladies who appear to know too much. "Chris flew in on American Airlines Flight 1975 at noon," offers one premie travel agent. "He must be tired." Must he?
No matter, as the van carrying the precious cargo arrives on schedule to the shrill of girls who don't know better. Some false alarms (er, oddly shortened screams) shoot off as siblings and others lead the procession to the big, yellow house. Then it's time. Out come J.C., Justin, Lance, Joey and Chris, looking, well, tired. They sheepishly acknowledge the screech of their fan base with a momentary pose at the doorway. Secretly, I'm hoping for a glance from Lance. Secretly, I should be shot.
Inside, local luminaries like Kid Cruz and Sexy Savannah ornament a tragic crew of ill children awaiting handshakes and autographs from this year's Bay City Rollers, while the rest of us melt outside and wonder just how it is we got here. A photographer to my left and I exchange the obligatory "I went to college for this?" glaze and attempt to sunscreen our senses of humor. "I still get excited," he confesses. Really?
Eventually, wounded children begin exiting in wheelchairs and crutches, looking like victors in some teen pop war. And then it comes. "Hi, lucky people!" screams a mouthy nymph from right behind me, and I almost fall over. Lucky? Like Britney Spears, "Lucky" ? How is a terminally ill 8-year-old with an oxygen tank lucky? If that oxygen tank is signed by one Justin Timberlake, I guess ...
Enter said Timberlake and the rest of his pop posse, as Glenda Hood invites them out onto the lanai. The predictable pulsating screams are punctuated for a minute when the heat pops one of the celebratory balloons. A rent-a-cop shudders his "oh, shit" shudder for a second, but alas, there is no assassination attempt to prevent this shameless ceremony.
"I'm not gonna stand over here," demurs Lady Hood. "I'm gonna stand right in between you all!" Thoughts of Glenda's hormones, and her legs touching Lance's, are quelled only by the bleeding pain of sweat in my eyes. The throng of by now musky pubescence breaks into an impromptu rendering of "Happy Birthday" to J.C., interrupting Hood's hollow words of "duty" and "respect." It's all going a little nutty out here.
"This place is really, really cool," bleats the uncute Chris Kirpatrick, amid assurances of interest and concern. The girls don't care. They do smell, though. One standing just beneath my chin turns around to tell another just under my shoulder blade of her freakish exploits. "I got kissed by three of them!" she cocks. "I don't think any of them are cute," the other bluffs. Girls are not very nice.