Ahem. Ladies and Gentlemen, may we present the Second Annual Society Victor Invictus Memorial Feast, a most sober occasion on which Victor, the gallant British giraffe who died trying, is properly lamented and mourned.
A herd of kindred souls turned out to honor him last night.
Yes, it was but two years ago in an English zoo that Victor, an aging yet virile East African Giraffe, lost his footing and spread-eagled himself (this is from the society's phamplet) "to be of service to Arabesque, one of his three female friends at the Marwell Park Zoo, 70 miles south of London."
He died, in a crane that was trying to help, just six days later. All England wept.
The news soon spread across the Atlantic. Then one day, an architect, an editor and a public-relations man, neckrophiles all, had lunch in America's capital. Thus the society was born.
"It was three martinis that sparked the whole thing," remembered Donal McLaughlin, the architect. "No," he added to the follow-up question, "we didn't share three martinis. We never share."
The party was held in the Zenith Gallery, one of those sparse, stark-white affairs hidden down an alley somewhere off Rhode Island Avenue. Getting lost was impossible because cardboard giraffes, hanging pathetically in blood-red slings, marked the way.
The bouillabaisse arrived early, seat-belted in cauldrons in the master chief's Peugeot. "For two days," said the chief's wife, Kay Lautman, "my house has smelled like fish. Then last night I came home and he'd left the bedroom doors open, so now even the bed smells like it."
The frogwoman arrived next, with black plastic flippers and a clear glass of gin. "It's easier to swim," she said, swishing her gin. "And I'll be swimming soon."
And then there was the dragonfly, who introduced himself as the insect one minute and "an inebriated Martian" the next. "I think one of my antennae is slipping," he remarked, thereupon describing himself as an "independently poor" soul who "tries to make out between parties."
This soul was actually Greg Hartmann, who was once on boards of directors here and there. His wife, Harriet, came as a bat who spent a great deal of time talking to the frogwoman, Virginia Brown. To get further involved in things, the Hartmanns won a society membership as a door prize this summer at Brown's wedding, which is a much too complicated story to tell.
Speaking of members, the society has almost 500. Requirements? A $5 bill. That brings you lifetime membership and a pleasant yellow card which proclaims that the society "has no bylaws, keeps no minutes, and makes no public disclosures."
Among the 500 (who are said to inhabit the corners of the globe) are columnist William Safire and literary agent David Obst. Last night, the 100-plus crowd was heavy in the artist/designer category, although sprinkled with an engineer, a professor and more than a few gleefully unemployed.
Everyone wore party name tags, which easily paved the way for "And tell me, Paulette, what do you do for a living? introductions. This also provided a creative outlet for those who scrawled "Dr. Doolittle," "Abou ben Adhem" and "Yes! I'm Ken Mondlin" on their badges.
Mondlin, incidentally, falls into the "self-torture" or I'm restoring an old townhouse" species. "i'm looking to rent it to a young lawyerette who's in her second year of practice making $30,000," he said. "Her name should be Frieda and she should have a sense of self-importance and very thin ankles." As of late last night, Frieda had not materialized.
Upstairs, next to the designer furniture on display, another partygoer was having a midlife crisis. Or so he said.
"I'm a having a great conflict between the rational side of me and the delightfully intuitive side of me," said Michael Salkind, trying to explain why a serious-looking NASA engineer like himself would turn up at a moderately strange giraffe party.
Actually, last year's party was stranger. Well, wilder maybe. That's because guests piled into Bob Lautman's rather un-neat studio on M Street and weren't afraid to throw drinks on the floor.
"Bob's studio was so messy," remembered J. C. Brown, the editor at the now-famous founding lunch, "that nobody was ever worried about anything but burning the place down."
Well, as it turned out, Lautman (who was also the aforementioned bouillabaisse chef) was forced to move out of his studio. This then forced the second annual party to move to more austere gallery surroundings where you could buy hundreds of dollars in meaningful art at the same time you drank. y
Generally, the drinks went faster than the art.
"It's fun and games," said Warren Ballard, who described himself as a businessman who runs a "small conglomerate" in Alexandria, "so what the hell?" b