FIFE, POMPED UP

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

There're a lot of suits here, and one in particular stops me in my tracks. Right there in front of me is sportscaster turned congressman J.D. Hayworth. He's magnificent! Diabolical! Bigger than life! A Huey Long mated with the Michelin Man, this flesh-pressing monster of a politician is making his way through the crowd bellowing greetings that are more demands than questions. "How ya doin'!!" "How's it goin'!!" "How are ya!!" I'm in awe. His face is a thick mask of red meat surrounding a vote-getting grin permanently set on stun.

The masses close in his wake as lone bagpipes begin to wail in the distance, heralding the grand entrance of His Governorship. A corridor of saluting Elite Republican (National) Guard stands rigid, creating safe passage for Symington's procession to the stand. There he is again, tightlipped and nodding, contacts firmly in place.

Okay. The rest of this thing is pretty dull, with the usual mix of humble thank-yous and look-to-the-future-brightly speechifying. The magic word of the day seems to be "prayer." As if the church service weren't enough, Symington covers all the bases with a rabbi, a pastor and the chairman of the Hopi tribe taking turns bonding the Gov with their respective versions of the higher power. Finally, Symington puts his left hand on the Good Book and his right hand in the air, gives the correct replies, and he's done sworn. Local golden-throated chanteuse Alice Tatum closes the show with a moving version of "Amazing Grace." You can't be too safe.

The sun is down, the moon is up--it's party time!
Provided you can part with $600 (for the Gov's campaign war chest) and a can of food (for the United Food Bank). That's the toll to gain entrance to the Inaugural Ball at the swank Hyatt-Regency Hotel in Scottsdale.

Yes, you guessed it, it's a roomful of rich Republicans. From those who look like Thurston and Lovey Howell to the new breed of power-ready yups whose gowns and tuxes cost more than a used Saab, they're all here to wallow in victory. And what a Basha, I mean bash, it is! They're swilling fine champagne, nibbling on pan-smoked red mountain trout, boogieing down to the sounds of a band named--and I'm not making this up--Affinity.

But how to properly describe the passionate vibe of loyalty to šber Citizen Fife that pervades the room? Let me swipe a quote from the evening's program that the Gov swiped from no less a sentimentalist than William Shakespeare:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother: be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.
What a clubby bunch!

Me, I gentle my condition with a Heineken and wander the room collecting odd glances from the band of brothers. I start chatting up a bartender, trying to coax any remotely interesting party stories out of him when the band kicks into "I Saw Her Standing There."

And then, just as Bill and Hillary took the stage to wail "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)," Fife and Ann are up there at the mike with the band's singer, digging into the Beatles classic. The governor is rocking! Well, trying to, anyway. Actually, he is confronting an awesome truth: A politician can be utterly cool giving speeches before thousands, totally confident during press conferences, and never break a sweat in steamy court appearances, but trying to look laid-back and with-it singing rock 'n' roll is virtually impossible.

The man is a true honky.
But he's sure giving it the old college (Harvard '68) try, attempting to read the singer's lips and blurt the lyrics out in time. Which doesn't really work. I almost feel sorry for the guy. He might as well be undergoing a prostate exam from the look on his face. After the first couple of verses, Fife seems to have decided to cut his losses and concentrate on barking the familiar chorus and the words "night" and "tight."

The people in the crowd couldn't care less, of course, they're in a swelling, dancing frenzy, edging me off the floor. The song ends, I've seen enough. As I pass the valet parking on my way out, there's a graying, tuxedoed fat cat joshing with the eager valets--many of whom look vaguely Kato Kaelinish--and dragging on a cigar. "I'm looking for three boys to come work for me!" he tells the attendants. "Can you put together cardboard boxes? Take my number! Haw haw haw!!"

The night is done. Symington will be with us for the next four years. I stuff my souvenir 1995 Inaugural Ball poster (a Currier and Ives-like painting of elk on what appears to be a wintry Wyoming plain. Go figure.) into the trunk of my car and point the Camry south.

Downtown, the pigeons are circling the Capitol.

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