White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner has nothing on suburban fete

Petula Dvorak
Columnist May 3, 2012

We weren’t in a cavernous ballroom.

None of us were wearing gowns or tuxes, or announced by cameras and causes, like the hundreds of glitzy people who flocked to the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Instead, we gathered in a two-story house on a cul-de-sac in Herndon, parking amid the fleet of minivans at the curb and showing up at the door with a couple of six-packs. George Clooney, Lindsay Lohan and Michelle Obama were nowhere in sight.

What was on the beige carpet? Capris, flats, belt clips by BlackBerry.

A pile of distinctly non-designer shoes sat by the door. A kid whizzed by with a bike helmet and a lacrosse stick. And from the back porch we heard: “We’re out here! Pour yourself some wine!”

At a real Washington party, there are no waiters gliding past with trays of crab truffle. There’s a huge bowl of noodles, some chips and the remnants of banh mi picked up from the local Vietnamese grocery store.

The guests were introduced as “our kids play soccer together” or “we know each other from PTA” or “a friend from college” or “just moved in down the street.”

But the conversation? Just as heady as anything you might hear at the Washington Hilton.

Doing advance work on Air Force Two. Getting kicked out of Kazakhstan. Scripting a presidential foreign visit.

“There is nothing spontaneous,” a fellow guest declared. “Everything is scripted. Every step, everyone in the room. We even had to script the ‘unscripted’ walk through the garden. Hey, this beer is really good. Where’d you get it?”

I went in search of the good beer. Along the way, I caught an intriguing snippet of conversation in the sunroom:

“So if I win at that table, I’ll go on to the World Series,” said the mom I know as some kind of government contractor.

“World Series?” you ask.

“Of Poker,” she replied. “I went last year.”

Whoa.

One woman with four kids and a PTA mini-empire to run was talking about her nighttime activities. Mainly conference calls to India in the middle of the night, after the kids are asleep and before she is up to get them to school. Most of her government work is India-based.

“How do you find time to work out?” someone wanted to know.

Another mom explained how she threw lots of pillows into the bathtub in the middle of the night to keep her kids comfortable, while they hunkered down in the safest room of their government house in Cairo when the gunfire was at its most intense during last spring’s uprising.

Good tip. “Pillows,” I write in my notebook, for the next time I’m caught in the crossfire of a citizens’ uprising and the kids are still sleepy.

A woman, who once played the off-lead in an Oliver Stone movie but now edits editorials that are read all over the country, explained her new MomCut.

“I was walking down the street with my son, and someone asked if I was his girlfriend. I had to get it cut,” she said. No wonder she left Hollywood. Trying to look older?

Still wanting that beer, I went back to the kitchen, where there was a knot of men at the fridge. No, the conversation wasn’t about the Redskins. They were debating the value of the dollar.

At the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, quiet speculation swirled around which Hollywood stars had work done. Lips? Those aren’t natural. Boobs? A lift, at the very least, they guessed.

In Herndon, they showed off their scars if they were asked.

Wounds from the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon? Sure.

Or check this one out, an Indonesian linguist said as he pulled up his shirt, when everyone egged him on, displaying an angry scar around his belly button. He’d been at Walter Reed to donate a kidney to a Navy veteran who gets dialysis three times a day.

“Obama was there, handing out Purple Hearts,” the linguist’s wife added, her one indulgent name-dropping moment.

“When you do it at Walter Reed, it actually doesn’t feel too heroic,” the linguist explained to me when I called his act “heroic.” “My neighbors on the hospital wing were soldiers just back from the war zone with amputations and facing a lifetime of coping with their new situation.”

“[My wife] saw a legless soldier in a wheelchair pushing himself along while his small daughter got a ride on the little metal places that flip down for his feet that he obviously wasn’t using,” he said.

Okay, that’s heavy.

But don’t think real Washington parties are laden with gravitas and secrecy. There were paparazzi, for sure. Camera phones flashed, video rolled.

What was the attraction?

Upstairs, a tiny, white feeder mouse was being offered to the kids’ new pet snake.

Now that is Washington.

Follow me on Twitter at @petulad. To read my previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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