I Got Dem Ol’ Fin de Siècle Blues Again, Mama

Recently Ben Bradlee’s fading trophy-wife Sally Quinn stumbled out of her Labyrinth of Deep Thinking (where she had been communing with God over a pitcher of  Minotaur Mojitos) only to discover that The World As She Knew It had  gone straight to hell in a Gucci handbag. Her own private  fin de siècle officially occurred the moment she watched  the bus from Déclassé Junction pull up and belch forth buttloads of arrivistes demanding entry into her world where the elite meet, greet, and eat:

In April, at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, my husband, Ben Bradlee, and I found ourselves sandwiched between the Kardashians and Newt and Callista Gingrich. Heavily made up and smiling for the cameras, the reality TV family and the political couple were swarmed over by the paparazzi, who were screaming and shouting the celebrities’ names to make them look toward the cameras for that million-dollar photograph.

I was shoved up against Callista’s hair and nearly broke my nose. It was scary. I felt as if I had been caught in a crowded theater and someone had yelled fire. Ben and I (he spouting expletives all the way), grabbed onto each other and managed to escape to the equally crowded hallway where desperate celebrity guests were heading toward the ballroom, murmuring to us as they passed, “Get me out of here.”

It was telling that Vanity Fair had bought more tables at the dinner than most of the Washington news organizations.

On the way home (we skipped the after-parties), I suddenly realized that this grotesque event signaled the end of power as we have known it. That dinner — which seemed to have more celebrities, clients and advertisers than journalists and politicians — was the tipping point.

One can imagine the indignity of being pancaked between the big hair of Callista Gingrich (who is nothing less than a fledgling Sally Quinn but, alas, married poorly) and the big butt of Kim Kardashian which no doubt gave rise to Quinn’s bile as well as her catty reference to Callista’s helmet hair. Meow, Sally, meow … but well played.

Quinn goes on to explain that Washington used to run by The Right People (whom she equates with power) and those whom they married making their spouse a Powerful Person Once Removed, by which she means herself. Oh for the days when Henry Kissinger used to hold court while attended to by his date, often a young startlet du jour whose southern marshy wetlands he was invading and fingerbanging like it was just another humid Cambodian jungle outpost. Those were the days, my friend as documented in Quinn’s equally humid roman à clef Regrets Only. But now Washington is overrun with sweaty strivers, Hollywood glamouristas, and Gatsbyesque financial criminals muscling their way past security and into polite society without the common decency to go through the proper channels and sleep their way to the top. Pamela Harriman wept.

Quinn also notes that the journalism/influence/power game has now changed with wonky:

“…25-year-old bloggers , many of them showing up on the TV talk shows, that the old-timers are struggling to catch up, tweeting their hearts out and using hip language like “hashtags.”

… which is to say that she resents young smartypants upstarts like Ezra Klein forcing her buddy Richard Cohen to update his stale Shecky Reston routine because Ezra couldn’t lift Cohen’s jock cummerbund.

Seeing her Golden Age Of Power With The Right People Wielding That Power so defiled by the vulgar and nouveau riche, Quinn and her husband Ben Bradlee have taken to the quiet life amongst their dwindling circle of Hey, Didn’t You Used To Be … ? friends:

Could it be that the Obamas, not knowing Washington, think that’s all there is to the social life here? Who wouldn’t want to stay away? On the other hand, he is the president of the United States and, whether he likes it or not, the leader of social as well as political Washington.

But maybe this small-group trend is not such a bad thing. Maybe, as in one of those post-apocalyptic movies where the planet has been destroyed by war, people will begin to make their own lives.

That’s what Ben and I have done. In the past, we might have attended five-course dinners a couple of nights a week, with a different wine for each course, served in a power-filled room of politicians, diplomats, White House officials and well-known journalists. Those gatherings don’t exist anymore. Now, we host and go to small dinners with close friends, dinners with some meaning to them, dinners that are celebrations of something. These evenings are sacred to me. They are filled with love and respect and caring. People are never looking over their shoulders to see who is more powerful, or, more likely, richer.

For just a few hours on those nights, we enjoy one another’s company — and forget about the money.

Shorter Sally Quinn:

I didn’t want to go to your stupid party anyway.

O tempora! O mores! Oh Consuela … another pitcher of Minotaur Mojitos, por favor…

(Added) Working title of this post was: Sally Can’t Dance No More.  Wistfully sad that I couldn’t use both.

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