This is not going to be another rant about all of the parties I was not invited to in high school. In the ensuing years I have attended a few of what passes for fun for 50-year olds, namely political or charity fund-raising galas at stately Kenwood homes. I did not move to California to make one last desperate attempt the join the ‘in crowd’. I have made peace with the realization that the ‘hip’ recognize each other by some vibration sense they emanate similar to how dolphins communicate (see John Lilly’s early work on pecking order, “Dolphins: Too Cool For School”. Random House, 1964).
Even if I make it to nursing home age, I know that I will end up off the lower lobby by the ice machine away from the digitized laser projection room where the action happens. Still I am not some rube who is so easily impressed that I will write gushy words about anyone who offers me a crab puff or a warm glass of domestic wine. In short, I am not some open-mouthed goober who fawns over my social betters in a pathetic search for acceptance. I have been around and take my responsibilities as the Hill and Lake Press foreign correspondent seriously.
Whew, so much for the disclaimer, now let me tell you about the way cool party I somehow was invited to in the toney Holmby Hills/Bel-Air section of Los Angeles on August 13th. It was a fundraiser for the only national politician I believe in, Paul Wellstone. Because the Republican Party has targeted him and funneled considerable resources to his opponent, Wellstone needs to aggressively seek contributions from supporters in other parts of the country. Wanting to do the paper proud, I employed the journalism techniques of pleading and groveling to be included.
It was great to rub elbows with Hollywood’s liberal chic. I felt like I was back in Kenwood, but instead of hanging out with sewer commissioners and tenured humanities professors from Augsburg, these were television and movie people. The producer of “Pulp Fiction”, Lawrence Bender, who was conveniently in China, made his home available, and some of his minions made my wife and daughter and I feel welcome as they steered me away from some of the more fragile artwork. The home, gated and stately, was made of stone and elegant woods. It would not have been out of place on Lake of the Isles. The gathering was in the back yard on a beautiful summer evening.
I am not C.J. or Sid Hartman, and it is difficult for me to calmly intersperse famous names and keep a coherent narrative going, so I will just spill. JoAnne and my daughter Rachael cautioned me that they would leave me “with my new friends” if I embarrassed them in any way. I remained calm in my conversation with the valet and did not start gushing for over two minutes. In my defense, the first person I met was Bradley Whitford. I am a devoted fan of “West Wing” and his character, Josh Lyman. We spoke of his work at the Guthrie in the 80’s and of his wife, Jane Kaczmarek (“Malcolm in the Middle”), being from Wisconsin. He then went off to talk with Ed Begley Jr. (“St. Elsewhere”), while I mentally replayed our conversation a few hundred times. I gave myself a B-. I was not obsequious, nor did I ask fan questions, but in hindsight I may have shaken hands with him a few too many times (4), and he did kind of sprint over to Ed Begley.
Mike Farrell (B.J. from “M.A.S.H.”) was very gracious. He was born in St. Paul and still has many relatives there. I also enjoyed meeting Esai Morales (“American Family”) who is very committed to environmental and social justice issues. I did not speak to Ariana Huffington, but she seems to have forsaken her political career after spending millions of her own money running for Congress. She was one of the hosts and is clearly a Wellstone supporter. Josh Hartnett was there and we were able to catch up about the neighborhood and the Faveros, our mutual friends in East Isles. Senator Paul Simon of Illinois came to lend support for Wellstone. He was quiet and unassuming. Although he declined to make a speech, his presence spoke volumes. Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, was the host, but he didn’t stay to help clean up.
Senator Daschle was introduced by Brad Whitford which provided an interesting blur of television and real life. Though Daschle’s task was to introduce Paul, he also took time to speak about the wonderful partnership the Wellstones have and the key role Sheila plays on behalf of those struggling with mental illness. She shares his zeal and commitment to the disenfranchised.
The Wellstones’ recall of campaign volunteers and events is staggering. I believe that Sheila and Paul actually remembered me from some rallies in Minnesota. They are such absolutely authentic people with a genuine congruence between their private and public selves. They are a truly inspiring couple and my face hurts from smiling just knowing they are in Washington working tirelessly for issues and causes rather than the narrow self interests of corporations.
As the featured speaker, Paul Wellstone did not disappoint. He spoke eloquently, and took questions, displaying his passion and encyclopedic knowledge of issues ranging from the Twins to the Middle East. As usual he was casually dressed and as he spoke his jacket became an encumbrance to making points about the economy so he took it off. Soon he was sweating through his collarless shirt. When James Brown does it, it is a show, with Wellstone it is sincere. There were perhaps seventy of us gathered around him. He speaks with the same sincerity, urgency, poignancy and dedication, whether he is on the Senate floor, in front of thousands at the Minnesota State Fair, or at a small gathering in the Hollywood Hills.
An hour later, as darkness fell, the powerful guests, the behind-the-scenes Hollywood movers and shakers had hurried off to dinner at Spago’s. Paul remained in an animated discussion with Josh Hartnett. Soon they were wrestling playfully. Next Wellstone spoke earnestly with Esai Morales who later whispered to me in awe, “He (Wellstone) is Mr. Smith,” (meaning from the old Frank Capra film). Finally my family succeeded in dragging me away, but Paul and Sheila were still involved in a passionate discussion with the five or six remaining guests. In this world of gray interchangeable politicians all I could think was how truly fortunate we are to have Paul Wellstone representing us.
Tom H. Cook is still a Minnesotan at heart and will be voting by absentee ballot this fall.