"They said, 'You know, this issue doesn't seem to resignate with the people.' And I said, you know something? Whether it resignates or not doesn't matter to me, because I stand for doing what's the right thing, and what the right thing is is hearing the voices of people"
--George W. Bush (verbatim) / Portland, Oregon 10-31-00
There hasn't been too much hard-core news to feed on recently. Gary Condit announced that he will run for office in 2002; more power to him. President George W. Bush's stem-cell decision peeped its nose out into the headlines, but it wasn't as much a decision as it was a pussyfooted compromise that negated Bush's supposed convictions, and confirmed, once again, that he, too, is capable of performing a Clintonian pander job. The only other item that seemed somewhat substantial was that the United States started slapping Iraq around again, peppering them with sporadic missile attacks that were most likely coordinated in an effort to give Bush's slumping job approval rating a bounce, since it failed to even budge one point after the disbursement of the first wave of his $300 tax rebate checks.
But for the most part, the news has been all fluff:
Fidel Castro guzzled champagne, dusk-til-dawn, at his 75th birthday bash; the Iraqi Ministry of Culture started making preparations for a Broadway-style, big-budget production of the play, Zabibah and the King, based on a novel of the same name, which was penned by Saddam Hussein; Hillary Clinton got in a squabble over cock-fighting with Wall Street Journal editor, Kimberley A. Strassel, who vehemently supports the "sport;" the Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, of Iran, decided to enforce public floggings as disciplinary measures for those who embrace the social vices of drinking alcohol, harassing women or having illegal, "un-wed" sex; women in Ankara, Turkey, went on a sex strike until their village's water system is satisfactorily repaired; a sudden proliferation of wild silkworms in Kenya and Uganda started to impact the Chinese fabric market; and, veterans of Purdue's Bug Bowl are honing their cricket spitting techniques in an attempt to gear up for the annual "spit-off" competition at Penn State University in September.
Indeed, August is a slow one for everyone. The President is kick'n it back for the whole month in knee-deep dung at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, just outside of Waco, Congress is in recess and I'm on my way to the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, Nevada, for some sparky R&R.
But I wanted to hammer down some sort of solid gibberish for my Sideways column before I packed my luggage and jetted out to the Silver State, so I took a last minute scan through all of my notes on the stories that the wire services spit out in the past couple weeks, and was shocked that I had overlooked a couple of tasty shits-and-giggles vignettes.
The first one took place in Florida about a week ago:
In Key West, an elderly Cuban couple chartered a small, private, Piper Cherokee, with the supposed intention of having sex during the flight and inducting themselves into "The Mile High Club," but things went awry when they attempted to hijack the plane to Cuba. The ensuing commotion of the attempt inadvertently caused to pilot to lose control of the plane and ditch it 40 miles south of Key West, in the Florida Straights, which have depths up to 3600ft..
The pilot, Thomas Hayashi, 36, who is co-owner of the charter and tour company, Fly Key West, was the only one to survive the crash--due primarily to the fact that he waited until he was out of the plane before inflating his life vest. The couple apparently got a little giddy when they realized they were in for a splash and triggered the Co2 on their vests prematurely. According to the pilot, the couple got stuck while trying to flee from the Cherokee's exit hatch and ended up sinking with the plane, like a couple of lead Cangrejitos. "They didn't even wait until after they had sex," to commence their fatal hijinks, marveled the pilot.
The second vignette involved President George W. Bush and his twin daughters:
The twins have proven that they have greater spotlight magnetism than their father once again, and they didn't have to lift a finger to do it this time; this time they prevailed as a direct result of their father fumbling the public relations ball...
Somewhat audaciously, Talk magazine decided to run a photo spread of two swanky models who loosely resemble the twins. In the first few pages of the spread, the hell-raising duo ditch their Secret Service chaperones and start swilling back margaritas, getting down with bikers, and making sure a nice chunk of the LA club scene is catching their vibe. In the last few pages of the spread they get busted, thrown in jail, and Pops has to come and bail them out. And in each shot, the models are done up in various combinations of Gucci, Prada, and Versace duds.
Pretty tame. Pretty humorous. Almost glamorous. And if left without comment, almost sure to drift away in a jovial little putter.
But detrimental, ill-thought-out actions were making the rounds in the Bush camp as well as Cherokee cockpits: George W. Bush inadvertently ignited the flood lights and they pounced on the twins again when he instructed White House communications director, Dan Bartlett, to announce a media blackout with Talk magazine, or any reporter who is remotely associated with them.
"It's unfortunate for those respected journalists who decide to work for Talk magazine," Bartlett said, adding that Talk "has openly opposed and even mocked the first family's desire to keep the lives of their daughters private. It gives us plenty of concern and reason not to participate in the type of so-called reporting they are conducting."
Considering the White House hasn't blackballed a national publication since the days when Richard Milhous Nixon sought vengeance against those on his hit-list, many members of the press saw the Talk boycott as a prime target for criticism, and turned it into a prominent issue, which, ultimately, reminded a much larger audience of the Bush twins' lawless escapades and rekindled the superfluous debate on whether or not the media should continue to cover them.
Curious to get a cheek-by-jowl feel for the situation, I contacted Jake Tapper, Salon.com's Washington correspondent, who recently conducted an interview with Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschel, for Talk...
* : This whole media blackout kind of makes the Bush administration look infantile, doesn't it?
JT: I think the photo shoot was done in fun and is certainly not worth the to-do White House officials are making of it. I can understand their not liking any attention devoted to the twins and their run-ins with the law, but a full blown Talk embargo seems like an over-reaction to what was generally a fairly innocent photo spread.
* : I have a real hard time understanding any of the controversy over media coverage of the twins. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and com-director Dan Bartlett get on their pulpit and claim that any public action taken by either one of the twins, whether it be newsworthy of not, is a private family matter and of no concern to the media as far as they're concerned.
JT: The larger issue is, of course, that what propelled the Bush twins to this level of attention is their own 'generally age-inappropriate' flouting of underage drinking laws, some of which their father signed.
* : Absolutely. They continually ignore the very zero tolerance law that their own father signed into law. The hypocrisy factor is pathetic. Look at Roger Clinton and all the embarrassing coverage he endures. To my recollection, president Clinton never shut out any of the press due to any reportage or satire that was produced as a result of his brother getting caught on the wrong side of the law.
JT: Yeah, you're right...on the general topic of media blackouts, I think they're petty and vindictive, especially if you're president of all people. Certainly those who read Talk know it's a bi-partisan publication...it just ran an excellent and generally flattering profile of vice president Cheney in May.
* : I know. I caught that profile and thought it was a little too flattering...
I drifted off into several thoughts that all entailed too much flattery vis-à-vis the Bush administration. One that came to rest in my focal center was a quasi-preposterous theory that I had read about in a semi-reputable London tabloid. One of their columnists espoused the theory that the Bush twins' reckless image has been intentionally orchestrated and promoted by someone within the Bush administration in an attempt to try to alleviate the impression that everyone in the first family is a tight-ass, while at the same time flaunting the impression that the first family deserves pity for falling prey to the media's vicious slur tactics.
I dashed through my clippings to find the exact name of the publication, but only came across numerous references to the twins' recent spree of benders at LA soirees. Reading on, I sensed something disproportional about the coverage of the twins, so I did some quick arithmetic and saw that Jenna's name was mentioned in print far more often than Barbara's. In fact, Barbara had a fake ID confiscated at the nightclub, Toad's Place, in New Haven, CT, and the incident was picked up by fewer than a handful of publications.
Jenna, 19, who is working as a summer intern at the Hollywood management firm Brillstein-Grey, is definitely being portrayed as the more raucous one of the pair, but what I found more interesting was the fact that since she's hit the Hollywood scene, she's been allowed to carry on with her rebellious shenanigans with indemnity; she's been running amok in Hollywood, but has been seemingly shielded from LA law enforcement. And many of the reports of all the various parties and clubs she's been hitting lack behavioral details. The National Inquirer has nabbed a few photos of her holding drinks at parties and clubs, but for the most part her cohorts and hosts in LA are keeping her party habits hush-hush.
I made a myriad of phone calls to most of my LA sources to get some explanation of this phenomena, but every one that I was able to touch base with had "no comment." So I began to brood on the possibility that--even though it's a long shot, giving the Bush administration way to much credit in the realm of creativity--there might be some credence to the London tabloid theory.
All the contemplation about diva wannabees and spoiled bitches and media blackouts and image theories had left me mentally depleted. Time to start concentrating on that R&R, I thought, and dozed off in my chair before bothering to pack for my flight to Nevada.
I thought I had heard the phone ringing, so in a slumberous stupor I reached for the receiver. Dial tone. I looked out the window and saw darkness yielding to light and remembered that I hadn't even prepared so much as a shaving kit for my flight in a few hours.
As I was about to start sifting through my drawers to decide which items I wanted to pack, the phone rang, evidently for the gazillionth time. It was a Hollywood Associate that I had neglected to try and contact earlier.
Hollywood Associate: I've been trying to call you for hours, but no one was picking up. I was beginning to get concerned that you switched your number...again.
* : I am three hours ahead of you, toots.
HA: Yeah, but since when do you sleep at night?
* : Since I've started writing an article on--
HA: That's what I need to talk to you about. I have a delicious proposal for you.
I was about to submit an extremely controversial article to a major metropolitan newspaper, and this particular Hollywood Associate of mine was very concerned about its content: she knew I had the scoop on, and was about to go to press with, a sex and drug scandal that she happened to be involved with. This was no mere cocaine and congressman tome, either. This ditty involved a major drug cartel and several high-ranking members in the Soviet sex slave business. Being an up and coming actress, this is not exactly the PR she wanted in mass circulation before she nailed down a leading-role contract that she had in the works with Disney.
HA: I heard you're looking for some dope on the wonder twin?
* : News travels fast.
HA: So do I.
* : I don't doubt that.
I had known this Hollywood Associate for quite some time and had witnessed her turn into a prominent Tinsel Town socialite, with a voracious appetite for the party circuit. So when she claimed to have some telling dish, and would serve it up to me if I would sit on the Soviet sex slave and drug story until after she signed on the dotted line with Disney, I felt compelled to accept the offer. And after considering the fact that I trusted my Russian contact implicitly when he told me that I was the only one who he had divulged the damning information to, I figured that I could wait until after Burning Man to go to press with it...
* : Fair enough, so what gives?
HA: First off, you can't use my name. I'd never work in this town again.
* : Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the drill.
HA: And nothing about the sex slave and drug saga until I give the word?
* : I didn't say that. I'm not going to sit on it for a month.
HA: No, no. It'll be a week, tops.
* : Dandy, you bought yourself a week. So what's up with the wild one.
HA: About a week ago I was at Nicholas Loeb's American Pie 2 party with my new boyfriend. And when she got there she went absolutely whack over him.
* : Who?
HA: All I can say is he's an A-list celebrity.
* : No, I meant did she go whack over your boyfriend or Nicholas Loeb?
HA: Oh, my boyfriend...and I mean she went totally whack, practically drooled.
* : Was she drinking any alcohol?
HA: What do you think?
* : I'll take that as a yes.
HA: Anyway, you know me, I'm very open minded, so I told my new beau to humor her. They disappeared for a while and I carried on schmoozing and perusing. And before I knew it, he was back sporting a big, shit-eating grin.
* : Did they have sex...uh, intercourse...or anything else in that physical genre?
HA: No. He would have told me if they had. He knows I get really turned-on hearing about his sex-scapades, so there's no holding back there.
* : Yeah, well, like you said, you're very open-minded.
HA: She did reveal something to him though.
* : Literally?
HA: As literal as you can imagine.
* : Right. What did she flash him her breasts?
HA: Well...let's just say she was wearing a very...piercing piece of jewelry.
* : Hmm, above or below the waist?
HA: Down south.
* : Is that so?
HA: That is definitely so. It seems to be all the rage with the college crowd now. Really fashionable.
* : Like the freshman fifteen.
HA: University chic, honey. University chic...
* : That'd explain why she's not too shy about it.
HA: I wouldn't say that. They had been smoking a bit. She actually looked totally off of her head when she first came up to us. And like I said, she turned into complete Jell-O in the presence of my man. I'm sure he could have had sex with her if he had wanted to, and he probably did want to, but that's too dangerous of a liaison.
* : Not for an A-list celebrity.
HA: She's barely legal...and a woman scorned...a young woman scorned...with friends and family in high places...
* : Point taken. Who needs that kind of potential aggravation.
HA: Exactly. But that didn't stop him from letting her make a fool of herself by trying to impress him. She was going on and on about a tattoo that she had heard he had on his groin and he insisted that he didn't, because he doesn't. She didn't believe him. He just shrugged it off. So she got all cutesy and told him not be shy. Then she said she'd show him there's no reason to be shy...that she'd be willing to share her little secret with him, but he had to promise not to tell anyone that she let him see it...and, well, welcome to Hollywood.
* : That's the strange thing though, everyone in LA is being rather protective of her. Why is that?
HA: A lot of people do feel sorry for her...I mean who didn't party in their college years, and imagine that rite of passage being snatched away from you...she's hanging with hard-core partiers and they can relate to that. They're sympathetic toward her. Hell, I am.
* : I can tell.
HA: I do have a career to think about...and, well, welcome to Hollywood.
* : Have you seen the satire of the twins in the September issue of Talk magazine yet?
HA: Yes. I actually think it's flattering...and would have a hard time believing that they didn't think so as well.
* : Indeed, welcome to Hollywood...
When I noticed that the sun had completely risen, I cut our conversation short and started stuffing random handfuls of clothes and laptops and questionable paraphernalia into an oversized hockey equipment bag. After locking the fiberglass zippers on it, I slung the beast over my shoulder, snatched my leather safari sack from out of my stainless steel refrigerator and dashed out the door, fueled by a blizzard of charitable wisdom, which was instructing me to make it to a bank, several news stands, a costume jewelry store and FedEx, before I shot off to the airport--where I eventually arrived, only to here the PA announce the last boarding call for my flight.
I made it to the gate just in time. After stepping onto the plane, the ground crew and flight attendants immediately sealed the door shut behind me. Since coach was overbooked, the head stewardess, who was an appetizing Southern Belle with light auburn hair, escorted me to an extremely private seat in the sparsely occupied first-class section. She insisted on getting me a mimosa before takeoff. But before turning to fetch it, she winked at me twice, and ended the second one with such an amorous retraction of her eyelid that it could only mean she planned on inducting me into her very own version of The Mile High Club once we reached cruising altitude.
I settled back into the leather seat and reveled in my exquisite coordination of timing. Like an enterprising silk worm, I had developed my chrysalis at precisely the right moment...but not before I was able to spin a edgy cocoon...one that was festooned with the act of spending my entire $300 tax refund check on bundles of Talk magazines, which I adorned with appropriate jewelry on the appropriate pages in the appropriate places, and then sent off to a ranch on the outskirts of Waco, TX.
Tarmac, Miami International Airport / August 2001