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Land of the Freeze, Home of the Brrrrr

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 19 1997; Page F01

There are two kinds of events at the inauguration:

1. Horribly crowded, free events held in unheated tents amid an Arctic windstorm.

2. Glitzy, elegant parties to which you are not invited.

The "hot ticket," for example, was the MTV/Conde Nast party last night. Like all hot tickets it wasn't actually for sale. A sure way to allow rabble to ruin an event is to let them buy their way in. Technically these events are not "elitist," since Democrats fervently believe in the principles of fairness and equality, but they also believe that if you start letting losers into the party, the next thing you know they'll be trying to get into the VIP room, too.

The "cold ticket" was the Mall. The Mall had free music, free lectures, good food and about a billion people standing in weather imported from Pluto.

The misery index was off the scale. Lines stretched the length of a city block. People walked backward into the wind. Parents lugged around small children buried inside so many layers of clothing they looked like piles of laundry with shoes sticking out.

Even inside the tents, the ground remained frozen. The only way to survive the kind of cold that has struck this inauguration is to convince yourself that the wind actually causes friction, and friction, as we all know, makes us warmer. The thermometer says 20 but with the "wind friction," it feels like 72!

Anyone going to the inauguration itself will have to be praying that the president gives a short speech. A long speech might actually kill people. Instead of "An American Journey" the theme of the inauguration might wind up being "An American Gurney." (President Clinton himself won't mind the weather -- reminds him of his youthful days in Moscow.)

The Mall event has the same feel of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, only more political. There's good ethnic food, great music. In one tent Avery Brooks performed as Paul Robeson, the great singer and actor whose communist sympathies drew the ire of right-wingers in Congress. After Brooks came pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, lamenting that in America babies are brought up the wrong way compared with how they are raised in Africa and Asia. In another tent, kids could send e-mail to President Clinton and Vice President Gore. Another had music: Maceo Parker, Chaka Khan, Buckwheat Zydeco. Another had Elmo from Sesame Street and Bill Nye the Science Guy. It's an amazing display of American culture in all its diversity, minus anyone who's too obviously a Republican.

For a warmer venue, it's possible to hang out in the hotel lobbies and stare at hard-core inaugurationists. Like at the Mayflower Hotel -- that's where the Arkansans are staying. You can even crash a private party if you walk purposefully into the room, looking casual, thinking to yourself, "Ozarks, Ozarks, Ozarks." Ideally one wouldn't have to pay money for food all weekend, though most receptions have the same food, the same banana nut bread, the same chunks of pineapple, all of it mined from the same quarry in Virginia or wherever.

Arkansans are large. Some are the size of a barn door. What one notices is that the really large individuals seem to know everyone's name. It's an American rule: The wider you are, the more friends you have.

"The bigger you are, the more people you can come into contact with, if you catch my meaning," said Randy Laverty, a big man in the Arkansas legislature. Why are Arkansans so big? "I guess it's all the exercise we get hauling feed to the hogs that builds us up."

He pointed to a normal-size friend.

"Percy is what we call our petite model. I'm magnum-size, and we have a jumbo model."

At the Mayflower and other fancy venues there is an epidemic of fur. Someone should erect a wall with the names of all the minks who gave their lives for this inauguration. (A good look that we recommend is a full-length fur topped by a ski parka.)

There is also much hyperstyling of hair -- impregnable hair that could withstand a blizzard. The combination of all the fur and the hair offers a unique opportunity to explore the difference, in terms of texture, function, thickness and utility, of hair and fur.

Tomorrow: In-depth reviews of portable toilets.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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