The Spike doesn't get out much, so the last two weeks have been a whirlwind.
First, The Spike bookended a week with two book events -- Al Franken at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe, and then the Authors Luncheon at the Phoenician.
Let's just say that there could not be two more different book parties. From appearances, every single liberal in metropolitan Phoenix jammed into the Marquee Theatre the night of October 23, fighting crowds to park, cramming onto folding chairs and waving copies of Franken's book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, to get the guy to call on them during the Q&A. The former Saturday Night Live star was hilarious, grabbing his crotch in his own imitation of President Bush (you had to be there) and admitting he's not ruling out a run for public office. Proceeds went to a charity established in the name of Paul Wellstone, the U.S. senator from Minnesota who died in a plane crash last year.
The Birkenstocked crowd at the Marquee contrasted sharply with the well-heeled ladies (and a few gents) who lunched at the Phoenician the next Saturday. It was all for a very good cause -- to prevent kidney disease -- but no one could explain why do-gooders giving up a perfectly pleasant Saturday morning and afternoon to come to a fund-raising luncheon have to, year in and year out, listen to that dork Pat McMahon emcee the event. The Spike cringes in embarrassment every year, when the guy The Spike knows as Gerald tries to make jokes in front of luminaries like Peter Jennings. Whatever. This year Jennings stayed home and the lineup featured four authors. The Spike had only heard of one of them, and slept through the first two. The third, a romance novelist named Sandra Brown, has authored something like 50 books. Yikes. The Spike woke up to listen to her. She wasn't a bad speaker. But the highlight of the day, aside from some really good people-watching (The Spike is now seriously considering plastic surgery, as well as some knee-high black suede go-go boots), was Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays With Morrie, who was pimping a new book that sounded pretty cheesy but still had most of the ladies welling up over their Godiva chocolates. Even The Spike got a little misty.
(Note to the organizers of the luncheon: You have Jana Bommersbach's name spelled wrong in the program under the list of past authors.)
The Spike must admit to feeling a pang, remembering that spread at the Phoenician, when faced, a few days later, with a rubbery chicken breast swimming in what looked like Thousand Island dressing, over at the Sheraton off I-17 and Dunlap. Yes, of course, it was a political fund raiser. A roast of almost-Mayor Phil Gordon sponsored by the Stonewall Democrats, the counterpart to the Log Cabin Republicans (read: gay).
Seemed to The Spike that every Democrat in town -- gay and straight -- was at the event, along with a couple of Republicans, including über-slick lobbyists Mike Williams and Brian Tassinari and the newest member of the Phoenix City Council, Tom Simplot.
The highlight of The Spike's evening was a conversation with Governor Janet Napolitano, who gave the keynote speech. The speech was witty and inspired, and so was The Spike's tête-à-tête with the governor, who looks absolutely fabulous. Governing clearly agrees with Napolitano, who is downright skinny. Is that a new hairdo?
The governor split early, but she didn't miss much. The roast of Gordon was only lukewarm. Arizona Democratic party chair Jim Pederson (The Spike hears he's planning to challenge U.S. Senator Jon Kyl next time around) was okay, but as with so many Democrats, he was too nice. The best was Billy Shields, king of the Phoenix firefighters and all-around good guy, who imitated John McCain imitating Gordon's sloppy fashion sense. That was pretty funny, even though Phil Gordon is one of the best-dressed politicians The Spike knows, thanks to his wife. Most of the other jokes centered on Gordon's poor driving and love of coffee and chocolate, and just a little about the difficulty he has making decisions. (Before the roast, one wag suggested going onstage with a piece of a fence and straddling it, to make the point.)
The real clunker was the last roaster of the evening, State Senator Ken Cheuvront. Cheuvront inadvertently roasted himself, by spending almost all of his time telling all of the political movers and shakers in town just exactly how hard he tried to get his close-personal-friend Phil Gordon to bend city rules for Cheuvront's just-opened wine bar on Central Avenue.
In case you're wondering, that was not funny at all. But Gordon's response, in which he promised/threatened to assign several members of the Phoenix Police Department to "watch" the wine bar, was hilarious.
The very next day, The Spike attended another big-ticket -- as in $125 a ticket -- event: the Cronkite luncheon. Somewhere along the way, someone convinced Walter Cronkite that it would be a good idea to put his name on the journalism school at Arizona State University. They probably did it by promising to hold a luncheon every fall -- at a perfect venue, like the Arizona Biltmore, with perfect weather, like the temps last Thursday -- to honor some other journalist Cronkite really likes, and say really nice things about Cronkite himself for a couple of hours.
The Spike had never been to a Cronkite luncheon before, even though this was the 20th one, but came to hear Andy Rooney, who was this year's recipient of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism and Mass Communication. Before the luncheon, The Spike was thinking that the award should have been called the Walter Cronkite-Award-to-My-Friend-Andy Rooney-Who's-Really-Super-Old-Like-Me-So-We-Better-Do-This-Thing-Before-Another-Year-Passes. But amazingly, the 84-year-old curmudgeon (Rooney, not The Spike) gave a truly inspiring speech about the role of journalism in our society.
Rooney aside, The Spike really wanted to see if Joe Russomanno would show.
Russomanno, who teaches journalism at the Cronkite School (when he's not bitching about New Times to his students), stirred things up earlier this year with the news that he would not be attending the Cronkite luncheon because he did not believe Rooney should be honored, partly because of comments Rooney made last year about female sports reporters.
Rooney has admitted that it was dumb to say that women had no business commenting on football. But for Russomanno, who wrote a textbook about freedom of speech, that wasn't enough. He told New Times in September, "I'm very much a First Amendment advocate . . . I'm very supportive of people expressing dissenting views. Being out of touch with humanity, however, is another thing."
Too bad Russomanno didn't show at the luncheon, since Rooney (or his speechwriter, if he's using a ghost) oozed humanity.
But first Rooney ripped Russomanno by name, in front of 1,000 journalists, students, businesspeople and members of the Phoenix social set who have money and time to burn on a weekday afternoon.
Rooney said he wished Russomanno could have been there, but, "I don't think he understood that this was a free speech."
Ha ha ha.
And the chicken was really good, too, Professor.
Spike us! E-mail [email protected] or call Patti Epler at 602-229-8451.