Yes, Virginia, There Is No Senator Warner
As that mottled, wattled crew on Capitol Hill drones on about the President, there is the unmistakable notion that our nation’s Representatives and Senators are mouthing the words to a particularly loathsome Top 40 tune. The song not only remains the same, it is sung with the kind of overheated, Celine Dion-esque calculation that substitutes for conviction in 1999.
Now, novelist Richard Bausch ( Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea ) has uncovered proof that the country’s legislative branch is working from some sort of impeachment-process tape loop.
Angered and chagrined by the House managers in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Mr. Bausch, a Virginia resident, e-mailed Senator John Warner, the silver-haired Republican of Virginia and frequent date of Barbara Walters (and former consort of Elizabeth Taylor) to protest. In an e-mail dated Jan. 30, Mr. Bausch wrote: “This assault on the executive branch of the Government is not only wrong, it is dangerous. If the President is removed through this partisan power play, we will have a seriously weakened executive branch for years to come.” The novelist concluded: “I urge you to seek an end to this madness, this nearly McCarthyesque vendetta by a group of zealots who seem willing to trample everything in order to accomplish their purpose–what Senator Bumpers called ‘wanting to win too badly.’”
On Feb. 1, Mr. Warner’s e-mail reply arrived. “Dear Fellow Virginian,” it began. “It is important that you have provided me with your views concerning the impeachment proceedings of President Clinton. I share your deep concern, and I assure you that I am proceeding in a manner that serves–not a political interest–but to preserve the integrity of the United States Constitution and to provide fairness and due process to all involved parties.”
A few paragraphs later, after recounting and promising to adhere to the oath that Chief Justice William Rehnquist of the Supreme Court had administered to the Senate when the trial began on Jan. 7, Mr. Warner concluded, “I have great confidence that the Senate will perform its constitutional duty with fair and careful deliberation–without undue delay. I am listening carefully to the views of the people of Virginia, and I commit to you that I will reach decisions based not on politics but rather on the best interests of the nation.”
Heartened by Mr. Warner’s reply, the 50-year-old Mr. Bausch e-mailed back: “It is very difficult to suppose that the lines of conflict would fall so sharply along party lines if everybody was voting his conscience. I believe you are. I very much admired your refusal to support the election [of] Oliver North a few years back. I believe you have the courage to stand against the kind of animus toward a man that may end up changing this government against the expressed will of the people.”
Soon, Mr. Bausch had received another reply bearing Mr. Warner’s name. “Dear Fellow Virginian,” it read. “It is important that you have provided me with your views concerning the impeachment proceedings of President Clinton …” The Senator’s second reply was identical to his first.
“I see from this answer that your writers have crafted a global response letter to be used in all cases,” Mr. Bausch e-mailed back. “So it is as though I am addressing one of those chatty Cathy dolls, where you pull the string and the same words come out, no matter what else is said. In fact, I’m sure I’ll get this same form letter in answer to this e-mail. I hope you are true to form.” Then, just in case there was a thinking human answering the Senator’s e-mail, Mr. Bausch noted that he was “writing an article about all this, and plan to reprint the correspondence (if that is what it can be called) exactly as it unfolds.”
Mr. Warner, or whomever handles his e-mail, did not disappoint.
“Ah, this is perfect,” Mr. Bausch wrote back after having received his third identical response. “This is going to be so much fun to read out to people, this very direct and concerned correspondence. Let me say here that I think walla walla and didda didda and booka booka poo.… And it seems to me that our country badda bing badda boom badda ling ling ling, and that even so your responses show such pesty in flamma lamma ding dong.
“So, in these times when Democracy is at breakfast, asleep in the arms of the alimentary bood,” Mr. Bausch continued, “the good thing is that ordinary citizens can actually get the pring that you have their fandaglee doodily in mind as you press forward with the concerns of government.”
“Dear Fellow Virginian,” came the Senator’s reply, not a comma altered.
“Yes, I know, my little pigsnie, but you mustn’t get too familiar now,” Mr. Bausch wrote back. “It really is time to call this off, since our relationship has moved to such a stage of intimacy. When you say ‘Dear fellow Virginian,’ I know you mean so much more. I know this is more of your unusual reserve, your, how shall I put it, sausage and eggs. I mean I really am unable to continue, being married and a Catholic. You are so verrrry attractive, … when it comes to pulling the string, well, there’s just no telling where it may lead.” Mr. Bausch then added, “But I do have the important items of clothing and sasquatch sighted near Canadian border.… So, regretfully, I say farewell. One concerned citizen to a clambake; one Virginian to a baked Alaska. I remain ever faithful, ever the liver and onions, my lover, my poppyseed, my darling. With sweat socks and deep appreciation, Richard Bausch.”
“My Dear Fellow Virginian …” came the reply.
Mr. Bausch’s penultimate letter to Mr. Warner, at least at press time, had a wistful tone. “I am especially troubled by your persistence in using your little endearment for me when we started this relationship–do you mean it ironically?” he wrote. “I only let my closest friends and associates call me ‘Fellow Virginian,’ and I would think that, since we are going our separate ways, you would know that I wish you to revert back to your old term for me, the one that used to amuse you so much–oh, remember? You’d say it and then laugh so hard: ‘Voter,’ you’d say, and then guffaw guffaw. It used to make you so silly, that word.… And then I’d say ‘representative government,’ and you’d have to run to the bathroom.”
Alas, Mr. Bausch wrote, “We have to move on, now. Oh, well, all right, once more for you, for old times sake, I’ll use our endearment in closing.” And then he did: “So I remain, then, trusting you to adhere to my wishes, your little ‘voter’–your ‘Fellow Virginian.’”
After receiving yet another copy of Mr. Warner’s form e-mail, Mr. Bausch sent one more e-mail to the Senator, although not as himself. “Dere Sentor Warner,” he wrote. “My daddy says Santa’s too busy. So could you send me a bicycle? Love, Darlene.”
Mr. Warner’s deputy press secretary Geoff Schwartzman told The Transom: “The Senator has one letter on impeachment” that he sends to “every constituent” who writes him a letter. “That letter,” Mr. Schwartzman added, “has been updated consistently and appropriately throughout the month-long trial.” He said, however, that he did not “have the specific data of the last update.”
Asked if anyone over at Senator Warner’s office actually reads his constituents’ letters, Mr. Schwartzman assured us that, while he himself was not familiar with Mr. Bausch’s work, “all e-mails are printed out in the office and read”.
Night of the Dog
During the opening Feb. 4 at the Pucci International gallery for photographer Christopher Makos’ show, Size Matters, A Retrospective , the blond, tousle-haired artist, dressed in black leather from head to toe, was standing near the entrance, greeting friends, when he was overcome by an emotional moment. Gesturing toward the black and white photographs hung on the walls, he said, “I mean, just look at them,” he said, making a sweeping motion with his hand, “I love them! I want them! You know what I mean? Even though I own them, I want them. They’re my friends.”
Curiously, there was only one photograph of his late friend Andy Warhol, whom Mr. Makos accompanied during the last 14 years of the pop artist’s life, taking party snapshots for the back pages of Interview magazine. In 1989, Mr. Makos published a book of 150 photographs of Warhol–but at his retrospective, there was only one, of Warhol in full makeup. “I’m sick of all of it,” said Mr. Makos, testily, of the Warhol association. “It’s sort of like Tony Perkins and Psycho : You know–it’s the thing that made you famous, and you just don’t want to do it anymore. It’s nice to make money off the past, but that’s about it.” Mr. Makos coughed, then pulled a bottle of Robitussin from his pocket and drank some.
Times have changed. With the notable exception of Kamillion, a 7-foot-tall black drag queen slinking around in a tight pair of velvet orange pants, there was little evidence of the carnival-like Warhol tradition. The crowd was mostly gay men in dark conservative clothing, studying each other more than the photos.
A few members of the old crowd did come by to wish Mr. Makos their best. Actress Sylvia Miles and Baroness Sherry von Korber-Bernstein stood apart from the crowd, chatting. When asked about the old Factory days, Ms. Miles snapped, “Look it up on Yahoo. I’m not getting paid. I’m not getting a lunch. I’m not getting a drink. I don’t have to be nice.”
Hanging next to the Warhol image was a photo of a dog, a hairless Chinese crested dog sporting a Warholian head of white hair. Mr. Makos pointed toward the photo and intoned, “That dog’s going to be here.”
As promised, the bald dog scampered in, accompanied by jewelry designer Gregg Wolf, and received a reception as if it were the dead artist himself. A crowd gathered. The dog pulled at its leash and clawed at the ground nervously. “Is this the famous dog?” asked Jill Lynne, a photographer, who got down on all fours to pet the cat-size animal. “What’s his name?”
“Puc,” replied Mr. Wolf.
“As in pookie? Pookie pie?” inquired Ms. Lynne.
“If you like,” sniffed Mr. Wolf.
David Hochberg, a public relations executive with Lillian Vernon, was not impressed. “That is one nasty fucking dog,” he said.
The gallery stopped pouring vodka promptly at 8 P.M., and Mr. Makos and friends headed to the Belgian restaurant Markt on West 14th Street. Mr. Makos sat in the middle of a long banquette. Arrayed around him were an ex-boyfriend; Michael Cohen, who orchestrated the gallery event; his hair stylist; a pretty-faced Choate prep school graduate whom Mr. Makos had photographed and who, Mr. Makos said, had taught him to play Nintendo 64; and a muscled fellow who once posed for Mr. Makos wearing only fishnet stockings.
Mr. Makos heard some commotion and looked across the dining room. “Debbie! Oh, my God, it’s Debbie! Our Greek star,” he said. He rose to embrace Debbie Matenopoulos, the former host of the Barbara Walters-produced ABC chatfest, The View . “I was doing a P.S.A. for cancerous children,” said Ms. Matenopoulos, who was dressed in a snug pink sweater. Ms. Matenopoulos was trailed by society fashion stylist Ann Caruso and her date, the much older, and gravely tanned, movie producer, Charles Evans. Mr. Evans held court at the other end of the table, smoking and waxing nostalgic about Showgirls , a film he co-produced. “I got very horny watching it,” Mr. Evans said of his time on the set.
Alexander de la Tremouille, the similarly tanned businessman who was picking up the tab for dinner, listened to Mr. Evans attentively. “I just don’t think audiences got it,” said Mr. de la Tremouille, shaking his head.
Ms. Matenopoulos mentioned she was worried because she had spoken with a Daily News reporter about her upcoming tell-all book. Her handlers had advised against it. “My phone hasn’t rang once today,” she said. “Should I be worried?”
Then Ms. Matenopoulos became philosophical. “I think, in this business, success doesn’t really have that much to do with talent–it’s about will,” she said. “Even in Auschwitz, if you have the will, you can survive.”
The following night, Ms. Matenopoulos broke her nose on her way to Moomba.
Follow Frank DiGiacomo via RSS.