Inaugural ball? Likelihood's small of any fun at all

ALICE STEINBACH

January 10, 1993|By ALICE STEINBACH

Here, in case you're interested, is my idea of hell: Put 6,000 people together on a frigid January night in a huge, unheated building where they are forced to walk endlessly through hordes of overdressed men and women, all of whom are shouting in an attempt to be heard over loud, poorly performed music.

Sure, I could be describing Macy's department store on the day after Christmas or a Nirvana concert in Reykjavik, Iceland. I could be. But I'm not.

What I'm describing is: Live from Washington! It's the inaugural ball!

Yes, folks, it's party time in Hollywood on the Potomac, courtesy of Bill and Al's excellent adventure. And what better way to say farewell to the old administration and hello to the new than to boogie the night away. Sort of the way they did on the Titanic.

But before you run to the mailbox to see if your invitation to the dance has arrived, you should know one thing: If your invitation hasn't arrived by now, you are not on the list.

You should also know this: You are not missing anything. Unless, that is, you like huge, impersonal, loud groups of people gathered together in unpleasantly decorated convention centers.

I can say this with authority because I have been to an inaugural ball. The year was 1985 -- the second inauguration of Ronald Reagan -- and along with several reporters I was assigned to cover the inaugural ball.

What you are about to read from my old notebook may change your life. If nothing else, it proves once again the old adage: Many things that look glamorous from afar prove upon closer inspection to resemble Michael Milken without a toupee.

Notes from a ball of the inaugural sort:

7:15 p.m. -- Try to find parking spot somewhere in vicinity of Washington Convention Center. Finally find one about three miles away. Enjoy an invigorating walk in the same sub-zero temperature that caused earlier cancellation of outdoor inaugural parade.

8 p.m. -- Arrive at convention center pretty sure that my right foot is in a state of advanced frostbite. Looking forward to getting into heated room. Spirits sink when I realize it is almost as cold inside the convention center as outside. Decide to wear coat and keep on fur mittens -- although they make it difficult to take notes and/or apply Lash-Building Inky Black Waterproof Mascara.

8:15 p.m. -- Start wandering the cavernous, gloomy hall in search of celebrities. Celebrity sightings always a sure-fire editor-pleaser. Difficult to spot them since thousands of people in hall are wandering around aimlessly, all wearing celebrity-type apparel -- sequins, beads, minks, diamonds. Even the women. Best I can do is to spot football greats John Riggins and Artie Donovan. Artie tells me he's wearing "a size 56 tuxedo that fits like a straitjacket." Write it down. Editors will eat it up.

9:00 p.m. -- Try to do interview with woman from Whittier, Calif., who is wearing a fur hat with a battery-operated sign that flashes "49ers." But with a big band playing at each end of the hall, it is hard to hear what she is saying. Something about the San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl victory. Either that or a story about a victory garden she cultivated during World War II.

9:40 p.m. -- After 40 minutes in the beverage line, finally get to the counter -- only to be told they are all out of Diet Fresca. This news accompanied by trumpets and a drum roll, which strike me as overkill. Then suddenly I see them: Nancy and Ronnie. Up there on the stage -- only about the equivalent of three blocks away from me -- I can see the two of them dancing, tiny stick figures twirling about. She appears to be wearing something white. He, something black. Write it down.

9:45 p.m. -- The President and Mrs. Reagan leave. Decide to get a crowd reaction. Most seem a tiny bit annoyed that Ronnie and Nancy came and went in five minutes flat. Most annoyed are the hundreds standing in restroom lines who missed the event. "How did she look?" several women in the line ask plaintively. Write it down. Editors love poignancy.

Midnight: D.C. police have to be called in when coat-check riot begins after many Republican partygoers can't locate their minks, lynx and coats of a lesser nature. Some revelers forced to leave convention center coatless or with plain, cloth coats instead of furs. Would like to get quote from man who punches woman but am dying for Diet Fresca. Leave quickly wearing my unchecked coat.

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