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WHCD Party Report: Pre-Dinner Cocktails

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The White House Correspondents' Dinner=perfect portrait of everything there is to love and hate about Washington. We wouldn't have missed it for the world.


I. Pre-Dinner Cocktails, Preparatory Herding (6:00PM-7:30PM)

Arrive with J. (jaded New Yorker friend from another life) in cab to the Hinckley Hilton: Omg. There really is a fucking red carpet. Paparazzi. Sort of junior-varsity feeling, but still. Fumble with wrap, bag, umbrella, grab J.'s arm and try to remember hints picked up from In Style about how to be photographed (stand diagonal to camera, don't show teeth in smile, suck in gut, stick out chest. . . ), walk in. The paparazzi go nuts! Smile, prepare to wave, shake hands, sign autographs if need be (must be generous to fans) . . . Realize that we have entered just behind Jessica Lynch.

Slink to will-call table to get tickets.

Big pre-dinner cocktails parties (Newsweek, Time) are downstairs, in the Hilton's bunker-like "ballrooms." On the main floor, your more intimate gatherings (TNR, National Review, Chicago Tribune, Weekly Standard, Urban Radio Network (?). . . ) are in conference rooms that ring the terrace/pool. Still pretty deserted. Briefly enter National Review party. Become frightened. Seek relative safety of National Journal/Atlantic gathering. First Franken sighting of the evening. Isikoff sighting. Overheard:

    Isikoff: "Why aren't you at the Newsweek party?"
    Lady in skirt much too short for the occasion: "Why aren't you at the Newsweek party?"

First glass of Australian white wine. The main floor smaller-party circuit is now a crush of men in tuxes and women in frozen smiles and stiff hair. The rain has forced everyone to use the narrow interior hall rather than circulate via the terrace. Difficult to avoid frottage-level intimacy with passing celebs, though it's funny to watch people try. Barbara Walters. Ben Affleck. Rumsfeld. Overheard: "All I've seen so far is Al Franken." TNR party. Ryan Lizza does not spill a single drink. All the minor-league parties have the same buffet spread.

Venture downstairs to larger shindigs. Huge crush/scrum/line in front of the door the Newsweek/WP/CNN party. Wtf? Are they checking tickets? Is there a list? No one knows. Clearly, we are Americans before we are journalists, because everyone's instinct is to herd first, ask questions later. Second (third?) Franken sighting.

It becomes apparent that the holdup to get into the Newsweek/WP/CNN party is Donnie Graham's institution of an ad hoc receiving line. He and the missus are greeting guests individually, smiling, nodding. Uhm, OK. . . J. and I are two people away from touching Donnie's hem when Howard Fineman struts into our midst, practically clotheslines J. in the Adam's apple, and swings an extremely tight-faced, puffy-lipped Meg Ryan into the placid face of Mr. Graham. Overheard: "Oh, Meg Ryan. I thought he was just being an asshole."

Jeff Bezos takes Fineman's cue and also cuts in front of J. and me. We are starting to get used to this.

More wine. Many, many famous-for-DC people. MSNBC's O'Reilly Lite, Joe Scarborough, talking to Newsweek honcho Mark Whitaker. Cooper Anderson (hottt!). Wolf Blitzer (still shorttt!). Debbie and Sandy Berger (she introduces him as "my dad"). Professional Wonkette Party Guest Joe Lockhart (who is not dating Tricia Enright, btw). The Newsweek buffet has cocktail wieners, which are yummy. Am stuffing the third or fourth into my mouth when Franken approaches and announces, in sort of Stuart Smalley tone, to no one in particular, "This looks delicious!" J. and I cover mouths to prevent cocktail wiener expulsion. Hey, there's the Apprentice guy!

Keep thinking I see Harvey Weinstein, but it's just random heavy-set mogulish types. Finally realize that one of the Harvey-gangers is MSNBC's would-be savior, Rick Kaplan, who is escorting around Morgan Fairchild, who is impressively wasp-waisted, heavily made-up, and seems in danger of being thrown off-balance by her hair.

Time/People party. No receiving line, yay! Yet more famous-for-D.C. folks, who I may stop listing. Sean Astin is the famous person most likely to be mistaken for a journalist. (Corallary: Journalists are likely to be mistaken for hobbits?) Lynch, hobbling but adorable. Serena Williams: man? Overheard:

    "Did you hear about Souter?"
    "Oh, yeah. Do you think he was walking Kevin Spacey's dog?"

Lights flash. Time for mediocre surf-and-turf! Crush/scrum/herd/million-footed-beast waddles toward the three or four metal detectors. Franken sighting. (Clearly, stalking me.) Kissinger. Spot Matt Drudge in white straw hat. J. pesters me for an introduction. Express disappointment that Matt didn't go with a more traditional fedora. "But this was only $3.99," he says. Huh? J. sweeps us into the wake of the People D.C. bureau ("They seem like they might know a short cut.") before I can get into more haberdashery detail with Drudge.

Thisclose to Vincent D'Onofrio. Having some trouble breathing. Could, if so desired, touch his hands, which he has clasped together behind his back in a pose familiar to all of us who overlook the many flaws of Law and Order: Criminal Intent in order to observe some good, Method-level brooding. Overheard:

    "He's that guy in the Law and Order show."
    "That doesn't help."
    "He was in that J. Lo serial-killer movie."
    "Are you talking about her career or a specific movie?"

[AP Photo/Linda Spillers, ABC News]

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