daily preciousness

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Sharon and Bill

It was the last week of work for the school year. I was clearing some things off of a top shelf, standing on the topmost rung of a ladder.

I was so surprised to get a buzz from my back pocket that I nearly fell off my perch. It was my phone. Usually, I keep it off so I won't be disturbed during work. But providence was kind: today I had it on. And what a message awaited me! It was the chipper, hyper-enthused voice of Todd, inviting me to join him for a fundy.

The fundy was at a club in the glamorous Southeast of DC. Now, for you geography beginners, the Southeast quadrant of the DC diamond is actually by far the least glamorous in the region. Except for one tiny area called Water Street. This is where the waterfront area sparkles with the easy breezy times and a relaxing Potomac view. (Additionally, the 14th Street Bridge is not far away -- a structure that could collapse at any moment -- thus providing for the possibility of great "I'll never forget the time when I witnessed a great tragedy" story for dinner parties for the rest of my days.)

The waterfront area houses seafood restaurants, salsa clubs and bars, from the T-shirt casual to coat-and-tails. The club where we were headed, H20, was somewhere in the middle of these extremes. There were mostly ties and jackets, but a few business casual types were around, too.

Interns fountained out of the front doors, all blue oxfords and blue jackets. The girls all were all Talbot's refugees. Nametag tables with long lists of names barricaded the door. There were two men with metal detectors searching pockets and purses and doling out little security bracelets.

But I'm jumping ahead. First, before I don a security bracelet (bright orange, like a prisoner accessory), I have to dress at home. So let's rewind to that moment....

So the workday ends at 4, the usual time, and I dash home. In half an hour, I'm thoroughly scrubbed and ready to apply the finishing touch: my favorite ruby red and steel gray Matisse tie that has brought me so much luck.

(Full disclosure: It's not my tie. At least not officially -- I mean, it's Henry's. But he let me wear it for an important day a few months ago. I wore it for my September job interview when I had temporarily lost my jacket and had to wear a tuxedo coat and pants. The tie, for me, is what white diamonds are for Liz Taylor. You remember the old ad, where she says clutching her rocks, "These have always brought me luck." Only this is a tie made of silky cloth and not a necklace made of sparkly diamonds.)

After three tries, I manage the perfect knot with just the right amount of bulge and cleft. Matisse would have approved.

I hop in Volvina with a basic grasp of where I'm going. A red light here, an on ramp there, and suddenly it's "ready, set, crawl through traffic"!

And somehow, don't ask me how, I missed a major turn. There are a few possible reasons why. I'll let you choose the one you like the best.

Before long, I noticed a woman by the side of the road. I was overcome with horror and pity for this unfortunate looking lady. She had clearly found the softer side of Sears.

I was daydreaming about how you would doll her up, you know, all purty like, so as to remove the stench of Sears. It would be like "Queer Eye for a Sears model:" A little dab of Donna Karen and a touch Issey Miyake. And all of the sudden, I realized I missed my turn.

I was rehearsing the 10-second soundbite that I would share with all the VIP folks that I would meet later that evening. I was right in the middle of crafting the breathtakingly, staggeringly genius and original phrase, "You know, I've often thought that, at this moment in history, we live in the best of times... and the worst of times, don't we?" And I missed the turn.


I was driving on a Northern Virginia highway and couldn't decipher the complex directional chatter amongst the noise of signage. And I missed my turn.

Well, take your pick. It was pretty much all three at once.

Anyhow, I missed my turn and wound up heading Southbound on the Key Bridge from Rosslyn. So I turned around and tried again.

Managing the navigation was a little difficult that day because I couldn't focus on driving. I was just too excited to meet important people at the fundy.

The nametag table barricades are just that -- social bulwarks intent on keeping the undesirables (like me) away from the upper echelons of charitable donors. But thinking outside of the box is one of my strengths, so I thought of a simple, embarrassing (yet cunning) way to sweet talk my way in. Now, I would share this ruthlessly brilliant bit of "strategery," but if I gave it away, it might not work next time! Sorry.

I waltzed in, perched myself in front of the giant ice sculpture and wait to hear the speechmaking begin.

I couldn't hear any. There was just the din of cocktails, conversation and appetizers.

First off was the most powerful ketchup heiress in the country. Her weird South African accent would be hard to miss. (And the uncompromisingly painful visual assault of those red-white-and-blue scarves she wears would be difficult to forget!)

I didn't hear her, so I called Todd a few times. But he was obviously busy. Before long, I get a call to meet him.

Along the side of the building, there is a back entrance to a separate reception hall and terrace. That is where the van Todd's driving pulls up. Out steps Todd's special guest. I greet Sharon Gless.

Her husband and beautiful daughter, Tori, are there, too. (OMG. Tori is such an unfortunate celebrity kid name. I don't mention this to her, because she's obviously the same age as Tori Spelling. Bless her heart -- her Mom never could have known what a total sinkhole of a name "Tori" would become since that annoying and talentless star's mediocre ascent to celebrity.)

Sharon is warm and gracious, if a bit nervous. In her hand she has a few handwritten pages on flowered paper. They look like pages from a diary or day planner. Dark blue ink colors the tiny handwriting on it. This, obviously, is her speech.

"I'm not so good at giving speeches, but I'll do one if they want me to," she confesses. Don't be silly, I tell her. "I'm sure that with your stage presence and speaking ability, you'd be a great public speaker!" She smiles demurely and holds her speech to her heart. "Well, I'll do it if it will help!"

Right as we walked into a big buffet room behind the stage, I realized that there was a very large powder gray head of hair floating above an expensive navy blue suit. And I realized why that large head of hair looked so familiar once I saw the crowd around it. Surrounding the head and suit, there were eight very large men wearing clear plastic earphones and huddling around.

The banquet hall and the stage were both packed. And Bill Clinton gave his speech to an audience that alternated between pin-drop silence and raucous applause. I could catch a few words here and there, but mostly I just heard the sound of his voice. Oddly, it was like the sound of a neighbor's voice through a thin apartment wall. His voice was so vividly familiar. The speech was exciting, despite the fact that I barely heard more than a few words of it. (So close and yet so far!)

Todd and I inched toward the stage, but there was absolutely no room and we only caught 30 seconds of him speaking before somebody asked us to step back off the stage.

Backstage, we got some drinks. We watched the chefs in white hats add finishing touches to the steaming buffet. The restaurant manager smiled at me. She ran her latte fingers through her honey brown locks and told me she was exhausted and elated, all at once. I told her to have a rum and Coke.

Todd and I collected Sharon and family and made sure they were comfortable. While they responded to the speeches, I stood there, wide-eyed, watching Natalie Portman (the junior senator from Naboo) walk toward me. I was about to ask her about her position on the evil, warmongering Emperor intent on taking over the whole galaxy, but I feared she might not understand which one I meant.

We assembled ourselves into a receiving line and said a quick hello to the former president as he leaves. Sharon and he share a brief chat and then he stood right in front of me. I put out a hand to shake. Or maybe he did. I can't really remember. It's all a terrible blur. Luckily, Todd was there to introduce me, because I was too tongue-tied to actually speak and shake his hand at the same time.

"Mr. President, this is Jeffrey, a long-time democratic supporter and volunteer. He's worked really hard for the party," he gushed.

A girl standing next to us snapped a quick picture of us. The picture demonstrates how completely inept I was at that moment. I just stand there, smiling and just as glazed as a Krispy Kreme.

Somehow, I composed myself enough to introduce Todd as a passionate, hardworking supporter who is always organizing events and fundraisers for the cause. To be honest, though, I don't think I came off as quite that well spoken. I might have said something more like, "Mr. President, this is Todd Elmer, who worked very hard for the cause." I can't really say.

I distinctly remember, however, that Todd stepped up to bat and very earnestly thanked Clinton for working for gay and lesbian rights while he was in office.

It was really a big blur. My heart was pounding so fast that I felt like a 500-meter dash running crack junkie: just a bit light-headed.

Luckily, Sharon was there to bring me down to a safe and happy place. She thanked us for playing host, giving us each a mama bear hug and a Debbie Novotny kiss on the cheek.

Then, she explained how funny it was to meet Clinton again.

"Just a few weeks ago I met Monica Lewinsky at this fat farm I went to," Sharon told us. "That girl was holed up in her room and wouldn't leave for anyone. But I sent a note in there telling her how happy it would make me to meet her, so she came out and we had lunch. She was just the nicest little girl and brought a smile to my face with her stories. I was hoping she'd make me one of those nifty handmade bags, but she didn't have anything to knit with."

Before long, the sun started to set. Todd and I had to make tracks, because our evening was just beginning.

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