As regular Boy Culture readers know, I met and posed for a picture with Madonna in the spring. Last night, I met and posed for a picture with Barack Obama.
First the queen, now the president.
I came to L.A. this week for one of those notorious autograph shows I write phonebook-length posts about, but I also came to see Madonna (on Wednesday) and, most importantly of all, I came for the big Obama/Biden fundraiser at the Nokia in Downtown L.A. The event wasn't cheap, but I felt compelled—as I had in '08—to give till it hurt. And it did and does hurt, especially since I lost my job recently (under a Democratic president, but under a Republican boss—ha) and am in no position to be spending as freely as I have been.
But no matter what happens in a month—and I feel pretty strongly that the president will retain his job—I wanted to give as much as possible since I don't see myself knocking on doors or phonebanking. If Mitt Romney gets in, we'll have four years of anti-equality, business-first/people-last, misogynistic, right-wing policies to endure, not to mention a slate of Supreme Court justices unworthy of being called "supreme" and with a far different concept of justice than the ones President Obama has selected.
Once I made my mind up, and once I realized I would be able to meet the president and get a photo with him, I clammed up. I didn't even tell my partner because I worried something would go wrong, I would find out it was a photo op with a roomful of people or the president would cancel to spend two weeks attending Debating 101.
None of those things happened, so after spending a lovely afternoon with mystery photographer Venfield 8 (who shot me, but not in the raw), I put on my new J. Crew suit, shirt and tie and hopped into a car to arrive at the Nokia around 2:45, an hour before show time.
The crowd was bubbling with excitement at the prospect of sharing air with not only the U.S. president, but with this U.S. president. Reporters were trying to ask people if they were disappointed with the president's debating skills when they should have been asking if we were elated by the latest jobs numbers or by the fact that Big Bird is now the Democratic Joe the Plumber or by the fact that polls are beginning to show that Romney's Lie-apalooza was losing its luster.
My ticket and wristband—surprisingly, just a simple, store-bought, yellow wristband—were at will call, where I don't think it was my imagination that all the workers were extra-smiley.
Inside, I gave my name and was allowed downstairs to the VIP lounge, where we were offered a feast that I went nowhere near—I've been avoiding bread, pasta, rice and (until the day before yesterday) anything sweet for a week in hopes that I'd be able to squeeze into my suit, and had just had lunch with Venfield...no need to look bloated with the prez.
There was an interesting mix of people in the VIP lounge—hot gay gazelles in skintight suits, old power brokers of both genders, young campaign workers in casual wear, Gloria Allred.
I snagged Ms. Allred for a pic-with after some excited young girls did the same thing. Love her or hate her, I have to tell you she was beyond gracious and asked me to let her know if there was anything she could do for me. (The woman can smell media a mile off.)
Around 3:30, I made my way upstairs and was taken to my fabulous seat, ORCH E 107. I wasn't far from the stage; it reminded me of the time I attended The MTV Video Music Awards from Radio City and could basically see Christina Aguilera's tonsils and Justin Timberlake's hemhorroids.
We were shown amazing videos summarizing the last four years, getting the crowd riled up. Or should I say fired up? The evening seemed to be informed by the president's 2008 "Fired up, ready to roll" strategy, egged on by an inspiring video showing South Carolina's Edith Childs, who started that theme when then-Sen Obama showed up to a campaign stop to find only 20 people waiting for him thanks to poor weather and a rural location. Undaunted, Childs had chanted, "Fired up, ready to roll!" for several minutes. We at the Nokia needed far less to get us psyched.
The opening act was Earth, Wind and Fire, who performed what to me sounded like an extended medley of their most famous hits. When Philip Bailey hit us with his falsetto at the climax, it was one of the more unexpected and exciting things I've heard in concert in a long time.
Next came a passionate speech from L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa, who set the tone by insisting that we needed to do everything in our power to re-elect President Obama, and who called out Mitt Romney for his dishonesty during the first presidential debate. "That's the best speech I've heard him give," said an attendee to my right. Maybe he's not known as a fiery speaker?
Jennifer Hudson sauntered out next, belting her heart out. She's so elemental in her talent she deserves to be added to the list after Earth, Wind and Fire. She did three or four numbers, including "A Change is Gonna Come", and brought down the house song by song. She was svelte in royal blue and by now has sung what seems like countess times for this president.
San Antonio, Texas, Mayor Julian Castro spoke with the same mischievous charm that was on display at the Democratic National Convention, as well as with the kind of tough talk about honesty that Mitt Romney needs to hear from Democrats. At one point, he said, "I realize I'm the only person standing between you and Jon Bon Jovi—but trust me, were more than halfway there!"
When Bon Jovi did arrive, he was suited and sang an agonizingly (in a good way) subdued set, including acoustic, dramatic versions of "Livin' On a Prayer" and "Wanted Dead or Alive". He's still so handsome as he's aged; oddly, I kept thinking he is beginning to look like Bill Clinton. This guy has been tirelessly performing for the prez, including just coming from Iowa. I'll never forget how genuinely crestfallen he seemed after playing for Kerry on election night '04 and after getting the news that Kerry was heading for defeat; I'm hopeful we can make Bon Jovi happy this year.
Throughout all of this, a doofus in front of me kept standing up (the only person doing so at times) or pumping his fists (ditto) or simply moving back and forth in his seat, so it was hard to get pictures or even to see. "He's a Democrat, too," I kept telling myself, but it didn't work because the sweet lady next to me overheard me mutter, "Jesus Fucking Christ, I hate this guy!" more than once.
Missed her name, but an extremely fired up California campaign operative came out and gave us a terrific sales pitch on the importance of Californians working to push purple Nevada blue again this year.
Katy Perry came out singing—believe it or not—"Let's Stay Together". Perhaps more believably, she sounded pretty bad on it. But I give her props for attempting that song in the same room with Stevie Wonder and Jennifer Hudson! She was really fun to watch, though, gliding through "Teenage Dream", "Part of Me" and "The One That Got Away", which we'll assume was not referring to Election '12. She had adorable boys and girls dancing with her, but it was when she was backed by a youth choir and bopping around with a white-and-blue, star-covered cape (Wonder Woman!) that she seemed most distracted by those around her. One boy was way into his back-up singing and she seemed bemused by him in a "go, girl!" way. She also advocated for equal rights between songs; all of today's divas prioritize their gays. About time.
When she was all done, George Clooney strolled out and zinged Clint Eastwood by saying that when stars speak out on behalf of politicians, they have to be careful not to do them any harm.
His speech was followed by an extended set by Stevie Wonder that included most of his signature hits, including "My Cherie Amour", 'Superstitious" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered", not to mention a new composition that he performed in public for the first time ever.
Katy Perry had snuck back in and was bopping around with abandon to Stevie's set.
When the president entered, the room erupted in applause and chants. During his energized (stump) speech, someone yelled out, "I love you!" and he quickly replied, "Love you back!" He poked fun at his debate performance by praising his staff for always being on point 24/7 even though he isn't always. It was cute, but cuter was his referencing of Mitt Romney's vendetta against Big Bird—"Now, Elmo's made a run for the border."
The president seemed really up and ready for the challenge of kicking Mitt's ass in the next two debates, helping to bring this election—his last, and just 17 years after his first—home.
After he left, those of us with yellow wristbands were corralled backstage to stand in a line of about 90 being funneled into a small room where we were to get our photos taken with the leader of the free world. I got the impression that many of the other people there had money to burn and had done this before. For me, it was a BFD (go, Biden!) to part with a lot of cash while unemployed, so on top of being excited I was nervous. Would it feel...worth it? At the end of it, would I be able to say I was better off than four seconds ago?j
Making matters worse, I was handed a ticket to present to the staff at the door just prior to being photographed and it said, "Line up with all the people in your photo." I suddenly felt certain this meant I'd have to do a dreaded group photo with a bunch of strange, albeit Democratic, people. Maybe I wouldn't even be standing next to the president or even get to greet him. (Greedy bastard that I am, I'd brought a copy of Newsweek with him on the cover to get a signature, so there went that, too!)
Happily, when I got to the front, I realized I would get my one-on-one moment. (One of the staff spotted my magazine and pen and had me leave them behind so he could sign after the photos and they'd send it to me. And yes, he did sign it—it arrives this week!)
As I was about to go in, I saw Valerie Jarrett, who I would have loved to get a picture with but there was no time. The president gestured for me to come to him as he finished up chatting with a couple, so I strode over and shook his hand.
He is exceptionally tall and lean, looking like a timeless statue, but one with a warm smile. I had considered telling him I was unemployed yet had felt compelled to contribute, but what instead felt right was:
"It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm a gay blogger who never lost faith in you, Sir."
He smiled even bigger and said, "You shouldn't have!" Sassy! Loved. It. "We got it done."
The president positioned me so he could throw an arm around me and we faced the camera. As had happened with Madonna, I barely remember smilng, but know that because we were posing while shaking hands, all my efforts to look thin would be for naught. We'll see! I expect the photo very soon.
I turned to him as I left and told him, "I didn't tell anyone I was coming to meet you, but my extended family, especially the ones in Chicago, are going to be so thrilled." He loved that and thanked me, I wished him good luck and I was expertly waved out of the room. The people around him are super, super, super pleasant, unstressed and efficient. This was run much more simply than many celebrity meet-and-greets, yet we were treated like welcome guests. Some celebrities' handlers will treat you like a bedbug at Mr. Mattress World, but the Obama political crew could not have been more welcoming.
A bit dazed, I wandered outside in search of Nancy Walls (the blonde actress to whose character Steve Carell's "Michael" proposed to in the "Diwali" episode of The Office), whom I'd seen earlier. She had vanished, but I did encounter former California Gov. Gray Davis, celebrity-news newsman Jerry Penacoli, a hilarious mob scene as a TMZ cameraman egged Gloria Allred into a crowd-powered chorus of "four more years!" (the cameraman proudly told us he'd just registered to vote, which everyone applauded but which made me blurt out, "You didn't vote in 2008???") and the fabulous Lynn Whitfield.
I hailed a cab and called my family to tell the what had just happened, mostly to revel in the enjoyment of saying it out loud.
The truth is, the president will be re-elected (probably) or not (possibly) regardless of my donation, a donation I can ill afford. But even if I "shouldn't have" and needn't have, I'm so glad, and will always be so glad, that I did.