IHTM: I Went To The Inaugural Ball

Take this as a word to the wise -- when in doubt, mention Aaron Sorkin’s "West Wing."
Publish date:
January 23, 2013
baller, Michelle Obama, obama, barack obama, inauguration

What comes to mind when you hear “Inaugural ball?” Probably the President and First Lady doing their first dance, women in ball gowns and men in tuxes, champagne flowing! You’d be mostly correct, but after attending Barack Obama’s Inaugural ball, I’d also suggest adding in Cheez-Its, call girls and a Joe Biden/Jamie Foxx love match.

There are only a few officially sanctioned balls by the Inaugural Committee; the rest are unofficial (and sometimes more fun), especially the state balls. I attended the Missouri State Democratic Ball, as I am originally from Missouri (fiercely loyal, don’t try me!).

A cover band consisting of a bunch of middle-aged white guys played Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” and I danced with Civil Rights legend Frankie Muse Freeman (no big deal, just dancing with history!). Eventually the Governor spoke, but minutes later nobody could recall what he said because we were too anxious for the arrival of Senator Claire McCaskill (a.k.a. the awesome lady that beat the dude who thought raped women could magically un-impregnate themselves).

As I went up to her for a photograph like the Captain Political Fan Geek I am, I said, “I just, you know, I think you’re just, well, you’re, can I have a picture?” #LifeFail

Other non-state balls vary in importance from super chic (Green Ball, Human Rights Campaign) to not-so-chic, like the one I attended on Saturday in the arty H street neighborhood. To its credit, it tried very hard and wound up being fun (thanks to D.C. hip hop artist Oddisee), but holding your ball in a space that looked like it once was a Burlington Coat Factory is the wrong first impression.

It’s these events, in addition to the state balls, that people actively try to crash for the free booze and the husband potential -- the likelihood of either happening is almost as likely as a D.C. resident describing themselves as an “Assistant” rather than a “Legislative Liaison.”

After a weekend of no sleep, endless conversations about “sustainable” this and “professional ethics” that, and lots of hotel pasta, you get to the official Inaugural ball. This is it. President Barack Obama motha-f*ckas!

Tux on, lady date on arm, or in my case, dates (it's how I roll -- I'm gay), extensively checked by smiling security guards and I’m ready to be an Inaugural Baller! Immediately I head for the food table –- Mom taught me right -– and Cheez-Its. It’s OK though, I understand, I’d rather they spend money on the economy and not actual cheese.

As you’d expect, there are plenty of men with beautiful young women on their arms. I’m sure some of their relationships are legitimate, whatever “legitimate” means, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say some of those ladies have .coms for, you know, “services.”

But this is okay, because it’s the Inaugural ball and we all followed the first episode of West Wing where Sam accidentally sleeps with a call girl (finally available on Netflix Instant -– get into it).

Oh, and what I just did, that’s a staple of any inaugural event. No, not talking about call girls, but mentioning "West Wing." Casually dropping a West Wing/Aaron Sorkin reference bomb immediately gives you cred with a D.C. local, just like how knowing about an obscure coffee shop in New York would or a gluten-free restaurant in Los Angeles. Take this as a word to the wise –- when in doubt, mention Aaron Sorkin’s "West Wing."

The official Inaugural ball is basically America’s prom. Women wear their best (and eventually wind up carrying their shoes), at least a handful of grown men will try to be hip and wear Converse shoes with their tuxes (note to all men –- this has never been cool), and the popular kids always win King and Queen, only they get Air Force One.

A big difference is the talent, with the likes of Alicia Keys, Maná (they are popular guys, stop the eye roll), Darren Criss (swoon), and Stevie Wonder. The standout performer was John Legend, who proved that with a dimple, a great voice, and perfectly tailored tux, women and men alike can get erections.

Not to be outdone by the President, Joe and Dr. Jill need to dance as well! Let’s just all agree right now, Joe is cool. So who do you get to play your song that’s as cool as Joe? Duh! Jamie Foxx.

After performing Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” Joe walked over to Jamie, put his hands on Jamie’s shoulders and proceeded to give him the brotherly love. The result of this gesture made the crowd, professionally speaking, lose its shit.

Naturally, no conversation about balls would be complete without talking about Barack Obama. You go to the official Inaugural ball for one reason, to see the President and the First Lady dance to a song sung by a soulful black woman.

All night long you’ve stood beside D.C. locals and out-of-towners, haven’t always felt welcome, avoided obstacles and there’s a sour taste in your mouth (and not just from the Cheez-Its). Then you hear that familiar presidential tune and there he is, President Barack Obama.

All those negative thoughts go away as a sea of cell phones rise to the air, lighting the convention space up in a florescent hue that gives you the sensation of being at a rock concert. Jennifer Hudson begins to sing “Let’s Stay Together,” and for five glorious minutes you’re in a room with like-minded Americans and friendly foreigners watching a man and a woman dance to their victory (and yours).

In that moment you become embarrassed, because in a total cheese ball way you want to scream, “God bless America!” like someone would do in a "West Wing" episode. Then you just do it.

So how did I score a ticket to the Inaugural ball? I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m actually one of those high priced ladies of the night that I previously mentioned (I do indeed have a .com -- not to mention a pocketful of Obama Cheez-Its). But in classic D.C. fashion, I know a guy with a title that sounds a lot more important that it probably needs to be. But who cares, I got to go to a ball!