FIFE, POMPED UP

IT'S REVERENT, IT'S MARTIAL, IT'S A PARTY. IT'S INAUGURATION-A-GO-GO.

It takes a whole lot of water to wash four years' worth of pigeon dung off the fa‡ade of the Arizona State Capitol, but the government grounds crew is ready to meet the challenge. They're up in the air on a mechanical platform, shooting a mighty torrent of water onto the face of the grand old building, sending bits of hardened fowl waste raining down to the ground.

The air is ripe with metaphor. For just as Fife Symington has spent the past 1,460 days unloading his business upon the people of Arizona, the rats with wings have left their own particular mark, as well.

The boys are giving this place a good hosing, engaging in this humble tradition in preparation for the good governor's inauguration ceremony that will take place here tomorrow. I dodge the poop shower and approach a guy who looks to be in charge. "Heck of a job, eh?" I query as the spill-off cascades into a public drinking fountain. He squints at me and shrugs. "Well, we won't have to do this again 'til the next election."

It is a beautiful, crisp Friday morning at Phoenix's Trinity Cathedral, the first locale on a full dance card of inaugural events that will take Governor Symington through a smorgasbord of ceremony (his official swearing-in, earlier in the week, was a more private affair). Today's celebration will take him from prayerful partaking of the symbolic wafer and blood of Christ to preying on the more temporal grilled fillet of salmon and Chƒteau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay. It's all part of being a winner--and having tax dollars at your disposal.

When I pull up to the church, I expect to see hordes of religious Symington well-wishers, but the scene is calm. Only a handful of the faithful are present as I settle into a pew and take in the Episcopal decor. A man of the cloth sits next to me as the organ kicks in with an uplifting selection from the Bach catalogue; I ask him how long the service will last and he glances at the program. Obviously a pro, he sizes up the list of rituals and estimates 45 minutes.

Time passes, dirgelike, a few more followers filter in, but still there is no sign of the governor. And then the main doors at the rear of the church open wide, a thick shaft of Arizona sun bursts in like a heavenly spotlight. And there he is.

Surrounded by a phalanx of white-robed churchmen bearing staffs and a large wooden cross, Fife Symington--loyal wife, Ann, and children at his side--has arrived. We rise as one, the organ surges to the combined voices of the Chapman University choir exulting the hymn "Lobe den Herren" (rough translation: "Praise the Men") to a glorious, fevered pitch as Symington begins a solemn walk toward the altar. Our governor passes me, tightlipped, stern and nodding to familiar faces. The minister beside me softly hacks into his fist.

The next 45 minutes are taken up by your basic church service--singing, confession of sin, holy Communion, more singing, sermon, etc.--with the focus on blessing Symington's new term in office. The excerpt from the Book of Common Prayer printed in the program leaves little doubt that canny Fife is putting the fix in big-time with the Governor in the Sky. Or maybe I'm wrong; maybe Fife is the Lord the passage is referring to.

Our Lord, our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this state to your merciful care, that, being guided by your providence, we may dwell secure in your peace.

So much for the separation of church and state.
I head over to the Trinity lounge for postservice refreshments, and unexpectedly have a brief tàte-…-tàte with Symington himself at the hot-water urn. It goes something like this:

The gov: "Is this the hot water?"
Me: "Yes."
The gov: "My throat is parched."
Me: "Speaking of throats, how about that choir?"

The gov: "Incredible. I was weeping. I thought I was going to lose my contacts."

Me: "Oh."
Then Symington tells me a story about a vacation he and his wife took to Granada, Spain, and how they heard two organists play simultaneously in a cathedral and how wonderful the experience was. Never having been to Granada, Spain (nor even having heard two organists play simultaneously), I can only nod.

There is a pregnant moment of awkward silence as I find myself transfixed by his alabaster countenance. I take a gulp of scalding tea and somehow control the urge to spew it back out as the roof of my mouth turns to molten skin. Symington smiles thinly and removes himself. I edge past him toward the door to the sound of palms slapping against the Gubernatorial Back.

Frank Capra and Norman Rockwell working head to head could not have created a better inaugural setting at the freshly sterilized State Capitol; this is pure, small-town-America political celebration at its best. Red, white and blue bunting drapes the dais, a military band fills the air with strident, four-four patriotism, there is not a protester in sight. A couple thousand folks are standing around, the high-ranking Fifekateers planted in strategically assigned seats (John Dowd, the governor's fierce legal muscle, is stationed symbolically behind his client, near his wallet).

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