Painting the town Gray

Recipe for a bad time: Spend your Tuesday night at the official Gray Davis Election Night Victory Party.

Published October 8, 2003 2:22PM (EDT)

Our odyssey begins at the Biltmore Hotel's bar at 6 p.m., where men in gray suits are drinking scotch and tossing back fists full of Chex Mix in preparation for the big event: the Gray Davis Election Night Victory Party. Those gathered by the bar do not look prepared for a raging bash. Instead, they look prepared to watch the Cubs beat the Marlins, since they're up 4-0 and looking strong early in the game.

My cronies and I order a beer and discuss potential nicknames. "Schwarzengroper" is the clear winner, with "Gropinegger" placing second. "Schwarzenazi" is deemed "too harsh."

A volunteer for the Davis campaign appears in the bar, looking less than hopeful. He pronounces the recall "shortsighted" and mentions that many of the voters he's talked with are basing their decisions entirely on the car tax. Our Kindergarten Cop's simplicity sure helps with those one-issue voters. All he needs to say is "Car tax bad! They go tax tax tax!" and the population hoots and hollers and then rolls out their mats for nap time.

My editor calls to report that a congressman let it slip to Fox News that exit polls indicate Arnold won by a landslide. I tell my cronies and they say "wow" a few times, then order another round. At the next table, someone else who overheard me starts saying "wow" as well.

Before you know it, we've had another cold beer and emptied our bowl of Chex Mix. It's almost 7:50 p.m., so two of us climb the stairs to the press room to see what's happening and to search for little sandwiches. Sadly, the food table has been cleared, and just three or four journalists are sitting around watching the TVs. One TV is showing CNN and the other is showing the Cubs-Marlins game. At exactly 8 p.m., which is when the polls close, someone comes on CNN and calls the election: Schwarzenegger wins by a healthy margin. The now five or six reporters in the room look at each other as if to say, "That's it? What about suspense and controversy? What about precincts trickling in slowly? What about the excitement of an election that's too close to call?"

We got robbed on so many counts. We dash back down to the bar and ask crony No. 3 what he knows about what's happening.

Crony No. 3: "Well, the bases are loaded and there's one out in the ninth inning, and Ivan Rodriguez -- Oh! -- has just become the huge hero of the postseason right here!"

Out in the lobby, Art Torres, chairman of the Democratic Party in California, is keeping his head clear while he's mobbed by the press.

Q: "Is there any reason for your party to be humble at all tonight, considering you have a million registration advantage over the GOP and, based on the numbers I'm seeing, your party was repudiated this evening?"

A: "Not our policies. People still believe in a woman's right to choose, people still believe in the right to protect the environment, people still believe in education, people still believe in healthcare and access to healthcare. Those issues will never be repudiated in California ... Now that the campaign is over, the tough task is governing."

It's amazing how politicians can hit all their talking points after such a devastating defeat, when dozens of powdered faces are pointing cameras and microphones into their personal space.

We wander into the "No on Prop 54" room where the mood is considerably more upbeat, plus they're serving miniature cucumber sandwiches. Delightful!

Soon it's time to wait for Davis to appear. Jesse Jackson walks by, looking tall. One Davis loyalist begins to cry silently.

"Does our new governor really admire Hitler?" I ask one of the cronies.

"Does he admire stinky fingers?" he responds.

Davis appears, looking frail and slightly hunched. His wife is dabbing her eyes.

"I am so grateful to all of you, and to the people of California ..." Um, what? Come on, guy. This is the one night you could at least pretend to be living on the same planet as the rest of us.

Davis prattles on bravely, but I can't help wondering what's happening at Schwarzy's bash. I bet Rob Lowe is there. Someone said Jay Leno was going to introduce Ahnold. What could be less -- I mean, more appropriate?

The Marlins beat the Cubs 9-8. As we leave the hotel, we can hear someone talking about beginning to collect signatures to recall Schwarzengroper the next day. Will the circus continue, and if it does, will they even bother to cut away from the World Series to show it?

When I get home, I watch my tape of the coverage of Schwarzenegger's party. Something about the energy level of the crowd tells me that they had a lot more than cucumber sandwiches. That's a cheese-and-fruit-assortment kind of energy, if you ask me. The camera zooms in on Rob Lowe. Ah, yes. Another actor in office; the spectacle can begin again.

As CNN waits for Arnold Schwarzenegger to appear, someone is telling Wolf Blitzer what Schwarzenegger's staff will be doing over the next few weeks. "They'll get the phones and the faxes and all those things running," she explains, but I'm distracted by a ticker underneath her that reads "'BAD GIRL' SHANNON DOHERTY SIGNS FOR COMEDY ABOUT YOUNG WOMAN WHOSE REPUTATION IS A LOT WORSE THAN SHE REALLY IS."

Maybe Schwarzenegger's reputation is a lot worse than he really is, too. Let's hope so.

By Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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