"You've missed the point all these years," said a fat, older man named Arthur who, though he refused to give his full name at this gathering of the Victor Invictus Society, said he's an astrologer. "Victor is regarded by us as a gallant giraffe. You see, most of the men here are in their 50s. They identify with Victor."
Later Saturday night, Arthur the Astrologer would be seen snoozing on the floor of the Zenith Gallery, oblivious to the gypsies dancing around him. But first, the inspiration for this annual event, now in its fourth year:
Victor, you'll recall, is the East African giraffe who died in 1977 when, in the sensitive wording of the society's pamphlet, he "lost his footing and spread-eagled himself while attempting to be of service to Arabesque, one of his three female giraffe friends at the Marwell Park Zoo, 70 miles south of London."
After six days he was lifted in a crane operated by Her Majesty's Navy. Though he perished in the sling, his plight attracted the sympathy of the British public and kindred souls throughout the world. "He towered 18 feet above our troubles," wrote the London Daily Express. "He rose above Northern Ireland, Rhodesia, a bread strike, and the death of Maria Callas . . . The very Earth shook when he fell."
Shortly after the catastrophic event, the "basically drinking and marching society," as one member called it, was founded by Washington architect Donal McLaughlin and some friends at a martini-soaked lunch that is by now nearly as famous as Victor's last stand. The club now boasts about 700 members worldwide. "You see," said McLaughlin, "he was a very old giraffe, called on by his natural instincts . . . but he'd ruined his tendons.
"That should be a lesson to all of us: Be careful of your tendons."
The choice of a gypsy theme this year was "very simple," McLaughlin said. "Our chef, Bob Lautman, went to the cookbook for something inexpensive to eat and found goulash. Kay Lautman's wife said 'Good. Gypsies eat goulash,' " and that was that.
The bandannas, shawls, beads, bangles and earrings seemed suited to the crowd of about 200, generally consisting of artists, designers and performers from the Washington area. But As popular as the goulash were the fortunetellers, Mrs. Day and Mrs. Natalie, who read palms for $3 and tarot cards for $10. More than a few guests were surprised by their psychic abilities, including Jeffrey Menick.
Mrs. Natalie told Menick he has a long life ahead of him, but that in the past he had some sort of stomach trouble and nearly died. "I was shot when I was 21," he said in disbelief. "In the abdomen."
As for the dancing gypsies, they twirled to the strains of Bill Starnes' violin, resembling, in their circle of dancing and clapping, a bizarre bar mitzvah celebration. They untied their scarves, waved them in the air and weaved among the Zenith's sculpture and tapestries, nearly knocking over the display cases.
"There goes the art," someone said.
And Arthur the Astrologer, in the true spirit of Victor Invictus, managed to get up off the floor.