Dusting Off a Gown and the Last 8 Years

I move the never-worn dress from spot to spot in my bedroom—slung over this door, then in a heap over there—as a reminder to get it shortened. This gown is probably worth several thousand but its mistreatment is no different than the way it arrived to me years ago. A friend in the fashion business had been unceremoniously “laid off” after toiling for a Devil-Wears-Prada type of boss. On her way to negotiate a severance she had little hope of getting, she spotted an espresso brown, cut velvet, halter-back gown and snatched it off the rack after noting it was my size. She shoved the dress in a padded yellow envelope, stapled the package shut and mailed it to me.

And it has hung unwarn in my closet since the day it arrived. Since moving to Portland, I am even more hard pressed to find an occasion to wear it. In the Pacific Northwest, unworn fancy clothes become a zen fashion riddle: If a dress hangs in your closet and you never wear it, does it really exist?

The idea of a ball might have been half the reason I purchased a plane ticket the day after election day to go to DC for inauguration. Most people are worried about being trampled to death with four million people swarming the Metro stations. I’m worried that this may be my last shot to wear this va-va-voom dress. I plan to wave bye-bye and yell “Thanks for nothing George!” in this dress…if it’s the last thing I do.

It seems like a lifetime ago when in 2001, just before relocating to Portland from the DC area, I did what any self-respecting citizen would do; I protested at George Bush’s inauguration. Along with thousands of others (though you wouldn’t know by the news coverage the next day) we carried our snarky handmade signs and waved them in the freezing rain for hours. At a banner-making get together at my sister’s, a young girl sat sprawled on the floor coloring in the letters of a sign that read “Illegitimate Son of a Bush.” Others read “Supreme Shame” (with a gavel), “The People Have Spoken: All Five of Them.”

A lot of good protesting did—though we had a small amount of satisfaction watching George’s limousine race by after he heard there was a block of protesters on the parade route. I always said I would return for another inauguration, one there was reason to celebrate.

All this talk of inauguration brought back the memory of a ball that a few friends and I threw for Clinton’s second election in January of 1997. We all wanted to attend a ball but could little afford it. Who needs peanuts and a cash bar for $150? And that was cheap, as ball tickets go.

We dubbed it the Inaugural Ball for the Not-Well Connected. For $25 attendees got food, an open bar, a live band, an Elvis look-alike and a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty. And just in case Clinton didn’t show up, we had his cardboard effigy.

Sure, there was no heat and there was the issue of extra fire insurance due to all the space heaters we had to rent. There were no toilets so we had to rent those, too. We made the best of it, decorating the Jiffy Johns with Christmas lights and stocking them with toiletries. As these things go, about halfway through the planning arguments ensued about the band, there was worry over sub-zero temperatures or else a fire caused by the space heaters, and concern over filling the place and paying the bills.

My friend Scott, who I was prompted to call the other day after not having spoken in years, had sent a press release to the Post. The clever wording got us a blurb in the newspaper and said something like: “You can dine with the federal fat cats on filet mignon at the Ritz for $20,000 a pop or….” We had to turn people way, having sold all the tickets in the final couple days leading up to the ball. Incidentally, I reached Scott and he acted as though we’d spoken every day. “I can’t really talk now. I’m sitting shiva,” he said. I started to laugh because he would say something like that. I realized I missed his humor and wondered why we’d lost touch. Only he wasn’t kidding. A family member had died. Here’s to you Scott.

The other co-organizer just tracked me down on Facebook. We’d barely known each other then and possibly drove each other crazy in the planning of that event. Yet all these years later, I remember only the fun parts. It’s hard to believe that was 12 years ago. The last eight have created a weary populace, battle worn and cynical. With the economy in the hole, wars still raging and scandal after scandal, there’s little to celebrate.

But there are going to be parties, lots of them. I have just the dress.

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